Dancer latest big name for NZ Open pro-am

Cris Judd
Cris Judd
Celebrity dancer Cris Judd will live his former dream when he tees off at the New Zealand Open golf tournament in the Wakatipu next year.

Judd - who has worked with music royalty such as ex-wife Jennifer Lopez, the late Michael Jackson and Celine Dion - is the latest big name to sign for the NZ Open pro-am at Arrowtown's The Hills and Millbrook courses, starting on February 27.

His invitation came after a round with tournament chairman John Hart and former All Black Andy Haden.

Haden manages Rachel Hunter, a co-judge with Judd on entertainment contest New Zealand's Got Talent.

Judd (44), of the United States, is relishing the invitation - he has never been to Queenstown but nearly had a golf career.

Taught from age 8 while growing up in the Philippines, Judd started playing junior tournament golf at 10. He placed third in his first outing and later captained his high school team in Florida.

While starting his dancing career, he also played on US mini-tours and in California as an amateur.

''I was making that push forward to see if I could try to swing it and go pro.

''But unfortunately I got asked to go on a different tour, so I ended up going on tour with Michael Jackson.''

Judd was a lead dancer on the ''King of Pop's'' Dangerous and HIStory world tours and, after his death, performed a dance tribute to him at the MTV Video Music Awards along with Jackson's sister, singer Janet Jackson.

During his entertainment career, Judd has played golf intermittently.

He shot 76 at his first tournament at California's Pebble Beach course in 2009.

''When I'm out on the course, especially when I'm at a tournament, I always like to think, 'this is where I should be'.

''I always in the back of my head have that dream to still be a professional,'' he said.

Judd says his iron play, from the tee to the green, is probably his major strength.

''[But] my putting is probably the weakest link,'' he says, admitting he still gets butterflies on the first tee.

By Philip Chandler.