Four amateurs have been named to contest the New Zealand Open Championship in Queenstown.
The amateurs to earn their place at The Hills Golf Club and Millbrook Resort from February 27 to March 2 are Cameron Jones (Muriwai), Kadin Neho (Whangarei), Vaughan McCall (Gore) and Jordan Golding (Omanu).
Neho and Golding will make their debuts in the National Open that holds a purse of (NZD) $900,000 and is expected to be the biggest golf tournament staged in New Zealand for many years.
The four amateurs will look to follow in the footsteps of Australian Jake Higginbottom who won the title in 2012 at Clearwater to be the first amateur winner of the NZ Open since 1956.
North Harbour No.1 Jones secured his place in the NZ Open when he won the New Zealand Stroke Play Championship at the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club for his breakthrough national win.
“It’s a pretty special feeling getting to tee it up in my National Open again,” said the 21-year-old from the Muriwai Golf Club.
“It is especially special as I gained the exemption from winning the New Zealand Stroke Play and I feel like I have earned my spot in the field. I'm extremely excited and working really hard at the opportunity I have to compete with the pros. It will be a good test around two great courses with a really strong field.”
Joining Jones will be Northland No.1 Neho, who made history at the Manawatu Golf Club when he became the first golfer from Northland to win the New Zealand Amateur Championship in 120 years.
“I'm just grateful to have the opportunity to play in the New Zealand Open, who wouldn't be?” said the 18-year-old from the Whangarei Golf Club.
“It’s going to be a huge tournament. This will be my first time playing the New Zealand Open and it’s going to be an amazing experience.”
Meanwhile Golding secured his place in the elite company when he won the 76th NZ Maori Golf Championship in Taupo in 2013.
There was no New Zealand Open in 2013 due to tournament rescheduling so Golding qualifies for the Queenstown event.
McCall, who won the New Zealand Stroke Play and the New Zealand Amateur Championship in 2012, earned his place in his second NZ Open after finishing as the leading player on the 2013 NZ Golf Order of Merit.
McCall is a born and bred Southern lad and to play the New Zealand Open so close to home is going to be a huge thrill.
“I can’t lie I’m absolutely stoked to have a start into the New Zealand Open,” said 22-year-old from the Gore Golf Club.
“I have had so many people ask if I’ll be playing and I know heaps of people who are keen to come and watch. It’s a great chance for me to fly the 'Gore' Flag. I can’t wait.”
Jones, who missed the cut at the BMW NZ Open in 2012 by only one stroke, feels like he has unfinished business at the New Zealand Open.
“I caddied for [Te Awamutu pro] Brad Shilton in the NZ PGA Pro-Am last year so I got to know The Hills fairly well from being on the bag. I think it will suit my ball striking.
“I don't know Millbrook at all I haven't played there, but from what I hear it’s a really nice course to play so it should be enjoyable.”
In the last New Zealand Open at Clearwater an Australian amateur Jake Higginbottom made history by becoming the first amateur to win the event since compatriot Fellow Australian Harry Berwick in 1956.
Jones sees no reason why he cannot contend in 2014.
“I'm going down there to win it, so that's the goal, to win. But obviously to do that I have to be playing on the weekend so making the cut is the first step.
“If I play as well as I know I can it will put me there or thereabouts around the lead which will be a lot of fun. I just want to soak it up, maybe roll a putt or two in and enjoy what should be a great week.”