Kristie Smith won her first LET title at  Pegasus Golf and Sports Club in 2011

Western Australian Kristie Smith believes winning the New Zealand Women’s Open “changed her life.” The 23-year-old, who won the tournament by three shots from American Tiffany Joh and Italian Giulia Sergas with a four under 68 in the final round, is excited to return to defend her title at the ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open from the 17- 19 February at the Pegasus Golf and Sports Club north of Christchurch.“It was definitely career changing and life changing – all positives obviously and it was a huge confidence boost for last year,” said Smith.“It was career changing in you get the exemption [two years for the LET], it was life changing in the fact that I proved to myself that I can play, that I can win and that I can beat all of those players. Sponsorship wise there are so many facts and figures that come along with winning and it makes you want to win more and more. There were so many positives from the one week.”It was the biggest win of her career and the down-to-earth Aussie hopes the tournament can be a catalyst again in 2012 after battling a shoulder injury for the remainder of last year.Smith, who grew up playing the top amateur events on both sides of the Tasman, has always enjoyed her golf in New Zealand. It was a fitting place for the landmark achievement.“No way better to do it than in New Zealand; I have always played well there. I love New Zealand and it was typical that I got my first major win there I thought.”Smith couldn’t back up her dream start to 2011 as she suffered a severe case of Bursitis which affected her swing badly on her back swing and on her downswing. (Bursitis is inflammation of the fluid-filled sac (bursa) that lies between a tendon and skin, or between a tendon and bone).“I just thought it was a strain that I did working in the gym so I kept playing and getting consistent treatment – I always get treatment anyway so it’s normal for me – so I came home and saw the proper doctors and found out that it was really Bursitis which is probably why I couldn’t lift my arm up [laughs].”The former Australian amateur winner now has her shoulder pain under control. She has worked hard with her trainers and physiotherapists to assess why she got the injury and has amended her exercises and stretches to stop it happening again.It is always nice returning to a venue when you have success there and Smith said she fell in love with the Pegasus Golf Club with her breakthrough LET win.“It suits my game. It is pretty open off the tee and there is not a lot of trees and bush around. I guess you can say I love it. I just enjoy New Zealand in general.“Being able to play there once a year or so is a treat. Pegasus is a fantastic golf course and they run the tournament so well out there as well so it’s always nice to come back.“