Kennedy relishing delayed title defence of NZ Open as 16 Japanese hopefuls eye a piece of tournament’s 102-year history

Kennedy relishing delayed title defence of NZ Open as 16 Japanese hopefuls eye a piece of tournament’s 102-year history

JGTO seasoned campaigner Brad Kennedy will be aiming to accomplish the first successful title defence of his career when he competes in the New Zealand Open presented by Skysport, starting tomorrow at the scenic Millbrook Resort in Arrowtown.

The 48-year-old Australian, a two-time champion of the tournament having also won the 2011 edition, is relishing a return to the site where he last hoisted a trophy exactly 1,096 days ago.

The 102nd edition of the iconic event is making a welcome return to the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia after a lapse of three years due to Covid-19 pandemic-related circumstances.

The tournament is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and in partnership with the JGTO.

A total of 156 professionals, which include a strong 20-man JGTO contingent, will compete for the tournament's largest-ever purse of NZ$1.65mil, with the winner to cash in a cool NZ$297,000.

A well-rested Kennedy, who's set for his first tournament of the year, said he still remembers vividly the moment he claimed to be one of the most "unforgettable" ones of his career.

"I can still remember the shots that I hit, where I hit it, the putts that I made," Kennedy, who's also a three-time JGTO winner, told

"That back nine for me is a back nine that I’ll never forget. Just coming through the gates and seeing those holes really brought back those memories.

"Hopefully, I can draw on that during the week, but I’m still not sure how to play some of the holes out there."

Mikumu Horikawa, Yuto Katsuragawa and Riki Kawamoto, who finished fourth, fifth and ninth on the JGTO Money Rankings last year, will spearhead the 16-man Japanese challenge as one of them seeks to become the first-ever Japanese winner of the historied tournament.

Hideto Tanihara, not in the field this week, come closest to winning it when he finished solo second to Australia's Matthew Griffin in 2016, losing by just a shot.

Also in the fray are Tomoyo Ikemura, Jinichiro Kozuma, Ryosuke Kinoshita, who finished tied-ninth to emerge as the best-performing Japanese in 2020, Taisei Shimizu, Shunya Takeyasu, Terumichi Kakazu, Mikiya Akutsu, Kodai Ichihara, Ryo Katsumata, Tatsuya Kodai, Yujiro Ohori, Ren Yonezawa and Ryuichi Oiwa.

Let's hear what these excited players have to say.

Horikawa (fifth appearance): "I am happy to be back at the New Zealand Open. This tournament is very unique because we will be joined by amateur players to compete in the pro-am too. We're going to have so much fun! While it's important to aim for a good achievement, I hope to enjoy the week too."

Kinoshita (second appearance): "The scenery here is the best, not to mention also the hospitality is just as wonderful as my last visit here. A shoutout to all the people involved in getting the New Zealand Open up and running again after a three-year absence. I've been to many courses around the world, but I think Millbrook is the prettiest course. I'm going to do my best to win the championship! If I can do that, I'll extend my stay for a week!


Katsuragawa (debut): "I started the practice round early in the morning and I was surprised at how cold it was. The course felt narrower than I expected, the rough was long and there were holes with many bunkers. It's my first time participating, so I don't know much about it yet, but at yesterday's party, everyone was so friendly and hospitable. Last year I got off to a good start at the Singapore Open, so I want to use the New Zealand Open as a springboard for this year. I will do my best to aim for the top ranks while having the amateurs enjoy the pro-am tournament!"

Kawamoto (debut): "I rushed to New Zealand from Okinawa (where he played the HEIWA PGM charity event). Thankfully, I managed to go to the course and familiarise myself for the last two days. It's my first time in NZ, I'm so surprised by how beautiful the course is and the scenery that you don't see in Japan. I had an image of a long overseas course, but I got the impression that there are quite a lot of tricky holes. Since this is a pro-am competition, I would like to enjoy it together with the amateurs. I hope to cut on the unnecessary mistakes this year, so from this tournament onwards, I want to focus more and aim for the top finish. My big goal for this year is to become the prize money king! Last week, by chance, I was lucky to win the Okinawa event with my older sister. We both made good combinations and rock the world of golf in Japan. Who knows, something great is about to happen this year (laughs).

Ohori (third appearance): "It's been a long time since I last competed in the NZ Open, so I don't remember the course at all. I'm looking forward to this week because the perspective I have on golf is completely different from when I participated nine years ago. Last year, I became the prize winner on the ABEMA tour, and this year I'm returning to the tour for the first time in three years. I don't want to play half-heartedly this year, and I'm just going to aim for a win in each tournament I enter. The experience of such an international competition at this time before the season starts is very valuable and I am grateful. Being able to finish well in a tournament abroad will definitely help boost my confidence a lot."