Golfers crossing the Ditch

Australian golfer Brendan Jones at The Hills last year. Photo by Olivia Caldwell.
Australian golfer Brendan Jones at The Hills last year. Photo by Olivia Caldwell.
A strong Australian contingent is mounting a powerful challenge for the New Zealand PGA tournament at The Hills next week.

An impressive array of talent, led by world No 80 Brendan Jones, will cross the Ditch for the four-day pro-amateur tournament starting next Thursday. The 37-year-old from New South Wales is one of the top players to beat and there is a host of Australians to contend the cup, won by New Zealand's Michael Hendry last year.

Two with recent form on the board are Jake Higginbottom and Daniel Popovic.

Higginbottom hit the headlines late last year when he upstaged seasoned professionals to become the first amateur in more than 50 years to win the New Zealand Open in Christchurch. He turned professional just four days later and, not surprisingly, is being touted as the next big thing in Australian golf.

Fellow countryman Popovic picked up his maiden professional title at December's Australian PGA Championship. The 26-year-old Victorian started the event as a 400-1 outsider, but posted a 16-under-par total to complete an improbable start to finish victory over a field that included the likes of Geoff Ogilvy, Darren Clarke and Rory Sabbatini.

Another Australian player to watch is former US PGA tour player Michael Sim. The 28-year-old launched himself on the world's most lucrative tour in 2009, when he won three tournaments on the Web.com tour. He went on to easily retain his PGA tour card in 2010 when he finished 67th on the money list. Sim sustained a shoulder injury in 2011, which has hampered his progress for the past couple of years, but is now fully fit and determined to regain his place among the world's elite golfers.

Others stalking the NZPGA title include Nick Cullen, who visited last year's NZPGA after winning the 2011 Indonesian Open, 2006 Japan Open winner Paul Sheehan, winner of 11 professional tournaments worldwide, Kim Felton and two-time European Tour winner Scott Strange. Hendry also faces a stiff challenge from a host of fellow Kiwis, including Mark Brown, Steven Alker, David Smail, Ryan Fox, Gareth Paddison, Josh Geary, Brad Shilton, Phil Tataurangi, Richard Lee, Perth-based Michael Long and home contender Greg Turner.