Golf: Irwin keen to spread good will around world

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.
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 right now.

''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 most.''

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.