Champions say win was life-changing

Eight former champions have confirmed they will play in the New Zealand Open this week.

Four Australian winners - Jake Higginbottom, Craig Parry, Peter O'Malley and Peter Fowler - will be in the field alongside four former Kiwi champions - David Smail, Mahal Pearce, Michael Long and Greg Turner - for the event, to be held from Thursday to Sunday.

The Open has a purse of $900,000 and will be co-hosted by The Hills and Millbrook.

The eight former champions are all looking forward to again playing in the event in which they had won the Brodie Breeze Trophy.

Parry won the 2002 New Zealand Open at the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club, the event in which Tiger Woods played.

The 48-year-old pro from New South Wales, who was runner-up to Brad Kennedy in 2011, said he would support the New Zealand Open whenever possible.

''Winning the New Zealand Open changed my life,'' Parry said.

''With Tiger playing in the field, whoever won that event got an invite to the World Golf Championship event. Then I happened to win that ... and that put me on the Tour for another few years and it followed up with another win at Doral.

''So I am forever in debt to the New Zealand Open to have another few years on the PGA Tour. If you are talking about money, those two wins earned me probably $3 million.''

The NZ Open had a similar impact on the most recent winner, Higginbottom.

He made history in 2012 when he won at the Clearwater Golf Club to become the first amateur to win the title since compatriot Harry Berwick in 1956.

''Winning the NZ Open definitely changed my career,'' the defending champion said.

''I wasn't thinking about turning pro but that win changed that with the exemptions it offered me.

''It also gave me a huge amount of confidence that I was ready and

that I could compete with really good players.''

O'Malley holds a special place in the annals of New Zealand Golf.

He claimed the NZ Open in 1995 at The Grange and is the only player to have won the NZ Open, NZ Amateur and NZ PGA titles.

Auckland-based Australian Peter Fowler, who won the event in 1993 at Paraparaumu Beach, has a good track record at The Hills and finished tied 33rd at the NZ PGA last year.

The New Zealanders are happy to have another NZ Open in Queenstown.

Turner, who won the title at Paraparaumu Beach in 1989 and Royal Auckland in 1997, is looking forward to playing in his home province.

''It means I'll have to get a lot of tickets,'' the 50-year-old joked.

''In all seriousness, it's nice to get the New Zealand Open back to Queenstown. Given my involvement in the Tourism NZ initiative it feels like this is where the championship should be.''

Likewise for Pearce. The Otago professional, who is the last Kiwi to win the tournament back in 2003 at Royal Auckland, is gearing up for a big week at The Hills.

Perth-based Kiwi Michael Long, who won the event in 1996 at Paraparaumu Beach, said coming home to play in the New Zealand Open was always a great thrill.

Japanese Tour pro David Smail won the New Zealand Open of 2001 at The Grange and said it was the highlight of his career.

That win proved a catalyst for an important period of his career, he said.

''After that I went to Sydney and won the Canon and was then runner-up in the Johnnie Walker to Michael Campbell. My career sort of went on from there.

''I went up to Japan and won the Japan Open in 2002 and that really sparked things and I had a few more wins.''