Michael Hendry isn’t the sort of golfer who lacks belief.
He knows that he will spend the week of the New Zealand Open in 2014 in the spotlight as the local favourite but he is up for the challenge.
The 34-year-old, who has won the NZ PGA Championship the past two years at The Hills, will look to win the title for the first time when The Hills and Millbrook Resort co-host the event from February 27 – March 2.
He will spearhead the Kiwi players who are looking to keep the New Zealand Open trophy at home for the first time since 2003 when Mahal Pearce prevailed at Middlemore.
Hendry said that any time he plays in New Zealand these days he is rated among the favourites.
“I have become pretty used to that pressure of being talked about as the player to beat over the past few years at home,” said Hendry who will represent NZ at the World Cup of Golf this week alongside Tim Wilkinson at Royal Melbourne.
“I treat that as a positive. The only pressure on me will come from myself and my own goals and expectations for the week. If I play to them I expect to be contending for the New Zealand Open. I am looking forward to the challenge.”
He said, after making history at the NZ PGA Championship, it would be a dream come true to have his name etched into the Brodie Breeze Trophy.
“I have always said that winning the NZ Open would be the ultimate for me – like winning a major championship.
“It will feel like I am playing in the NZ PGA again but it will be the NZ Open. I will look to continue my love affair with the event and with The Hills. I am really excited about the prospect of competing for the NZ Open at a course where I have enjoyed some great success.”
Hendry believed The Hills is a thinking man’s golf course.
“The key to playing The Hills is your strategy and putting yourself in a good position for your second shot. I feel I have got that under control there.”
Hendry will be joined by fellow New Zealand professionals Mark Brown, Josh Geary, Gareth Paddison, Greg Turner, Ryan Fox and Michael Long as the leading Kiwi contenders for the title.
Fox, who finished tied fifth at the Australian Masters on the weekend in world-class company, said he loved everything about the new NZ Open.
“Queenstown is a great place for a tournament and the format is fun,” said the 25-year-old, who finished fourth at the NZ PGA Championship in 2012.
“The Hills is a special place to play. It is a challenging course but it gives you opportunities to make birdies if you hit good shots. Also it gives some of the best visuals of any golf course in the world. You can’t help to be inspired playing it.”
The son of All Black great Grant Fox, who is likely to caddy for him in the week of the NZ Open, believed 2014 would be his best ever chance to win the National Open.
“I have played well around The Hills before, and I love the course, so I would like to think if I play my best I would have a chance. However there are a lot of good players playing on the Australian Tour so there are lots of guys who can win if they are playing well.”
Fox has renewed self-belief from his performance at Royal Melbourne where he contended alongside Masters Champion Adam Scott and six-time PGA Tour winner Matt Kuchar.
“My performance at the Aussie Masters gives me a lot of confidence. You look at the guys in that field and I am right up there with some good names. I am obviously very happy and can take a bit of confidence from last week.”
Fox, like Hendry, would like nothing more than to have a chance to add his name to the NZ Open trophy that has many greats of the national game including the likes of Sir Bob Charles, Michael Campbell, Greg Turner and David Smail.
“It would be a dream come true to win a New Zealand Open for sure,” Fox said.
“I will never forget the experience of playing in my first NZ Open and it would mean a lot to me if I could one day have my name on the trophy.”
Fox and Hendry know there will be plenty of Australians looking to spoil the party. One of the leading Aussie contenders is Scott Strange who Hendry defeated with a birdie in the playoff this year.
The highly-rated Australian, who is ranked 243 on the Official World Golf Ranking, is a two-time winner on the European Tour and Asian Tour, is also confirmed in the 2014 field.
The 36-year-old from Perth claimed the Welsh Open in 2008 and the China Open in 2009 and will be looking to win for the first time on the PGA Tour of Australasia.
Other Australian professionals already confirmed include Nick Cullen, who finished fourth at the Australian Masters, Auckland-based Peter Fowler, Peter O’Malley, Craig Parry and Scott Laycock.
Tournament Organisers said that further professional and celebrity player announcements will be named for the New Zealand Open in the coming weeks.