Three-time US Open winner Hale Irwin is flanked by Sir Bob
Charles (left) and course owner Sir Michael Hill, at The
Hills, near Arrowtown, yesterday. Photo by Olivia Caldwell.
Over four decades, three-time US Open winner Hale Irwin
has given thousands of hours to golf, but the 67-year-old still
thinks he owes it something more.
Arriving in Queenstown yesterday for the New Zealand PGA
Championship to be played at The Hills, Irwin looked like an
excited amateur at his first tournament when he shook hands
with old pal Sir Bob Charles.
It was Charles who ''sowed the seed'' that led to Irwin's
decision to come to New Zealand and play in the tournament.
''He's been one of the greats of the game. There's not too
many in the modern era who have won three US Opens who are
still competitive,'' Charles said.
Irwin had to decline an invitation last year due to a tight
schedule around the Masters. This time, he was available.
''I think it's good at this stage in my career to help spread
goodwill, if you want to call it that,'' Irwin said.
''I know Bob has done such a good job in New Zealand for golf
and I think part of the next few years, it might be somewhat
in my defined role to help spread golf around the world. Not
that it needs it, but I just feel there's a payback time.
''I know that at my age - I'm 67 - the game is not getting
better. I won't say it's worse, but there's so many things I
want to do in my life and that's part of the conflict I have
''It's to determine in these few remaining years that I have
in the competitive arena of golf what I want to do in that
arena before I branch out do incredible things with the
grandkids, the holidays or whatever that may be.''
Irwin's son, Steve, was also set to play in the tournament,
as an amateur. But he had work commitments at the
family-owned golf course management business in Arizona.
''We had this wonderful trip planned to come down here and do
a bit of fishing as he had never been here,'' Irwin said.
''But some business has come up and he couldn't make it, so I
have done the lonely trip by myself. But I'm going to take
home some pictures [and] wonderful stories.''
There is no hiding Irwin's excitement at being in New Zealand
for a second time.
''The mountains are beautiful, but it's always the people.
It's the people, regardless of where you travel. The beauty
is in the people, in the culture, and that's what I enjoy the
Irwin's expectations ahead of the tournament are clear.
''First prize. Selfishly, I want to play well. I wouldn't be
here if I didn't think that I can compete.
''It's one thing to go 100 hours away to promote golf ... I
came down here with the full intention of playing well. Of
course, I say that every year.''
Irwin, a member of the Golf Hall of Fame, has three major
titles, 20 PGA Tour wins and 45 Champions Tour wins.