The new wave of New Zealand professionals – and one old stager – have surged to the top of the leaderboard on the opening day of the Australian PGA Championship on the Gold Coast.
Aussie pair Lucas Herbert and Brett Rankin recorded the best of the morning rounds with scores of 5-under 67 but in close pursuit are a collection of five Kiwis all in the top 14.
Ryan Chisnall’s 4-under 68 was the pick of the Kiwis with PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit leader Ryan Fox, veteran David Smail and youngsters Nick Voke and Harry Bateman a further shot back at 3-under par, Michael Hendry tied for 15th after a 2-under par round of 70.
Now embedded on the European Tour, Fox is hopeful that the group of exciting youngsters making their presence in professional golf can use the week at RACV Royal Pines Resort to play their way onto international tours around the world.
“I don’t know if you’d call ‘Smailsy’ a younger player, but Denzel Ieremia had a great start this year and obviously Nick Voke had a great year last year,” Fox said after a strong start to his title charge.
“We’ve got a lot of guys coming through that are ready to win, ready to compete out here.
“It’s a nice place to be for the Kiwis and hopefully we can get a few of them on bigger tours worldwide as well.”
Smail hasn’t played a tournament of significance since he was runner-up at the SEC NZ PGA Championship in March, tearing his rotator cuff in a Charles Tour event surgery mid-year which forced the 49-year-old to the sidelines for an extended period.
A five-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, Smail will play the Japan seniors tour after he turns 50 in May having missed out on a Japan Golf Tour card at Q School.
“I played OK at the start of the year, I finished second at New Zealand PGA. Then I tore my rotator cuff and it took a long time to come right,” revealed Smail, who has two runner-up finishes in just 11 starts the past two years.
“At the same time we planned a family holiday, so I was away for six weeks in Europe, just put the clubs away.
“Then I got them out and thought I would go back to Japan Tour school and give that a go, so that’s the only golf I played which was two weeks ago.
“It’s a little bit different when you haven’t been playing. You lose just a little tiny itch but I’ve probably had enough rounds to get back into it more and start to feel like I belong again here.”
Voke and Chisnall were New Zealand teammates at the 2016 Eisenhower Trophy in Mexico and along with the likes of Ieremia and Luke Toomey keep in touch wherever they are in the world via Snapchat.
“We use Snapchat because you can kind of see some pretty faces in that system,” Voke said.
“Guys like Dan Hillier, ‘Tooms’, ‘Chiz’, there’s a few of us that kind of came up through that New Zealand rank and it’s pretty cool to be able to go to the opposite side of the world and be able to represent the country somewhere.”
Winner of the New Zealand Open and Canon Challenge in 2001, Smail saw first-hand how well Voke and his contemporaries hit the ball on Thursday and conceded that it was a not-so-subtle reminder of how the game has changed.
“Nick played great today and Denzel’s playing fantastic golf as well,” Smail said.
“Those two guys are just killing it, killing it off the tee.
“They’ve got a hundred yards on me. I can’t even see them down the fairway really, I’m about a hundred yards behind them at times.
“It’s not much fun, that part.”
PGA of Australia