Bungard eager to resume

Phil Bungard plays a delicate chip to the pin on the sixth during the Otago matchplay...
Phil Bungard plays a delicate chip to the pin on the sixth during the Otago matchplay championship at Balmacewen last month. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
Phil Bungard looks and sounds like a man at peace.

The former teenage prodigy will today celebrate his return to elite golf when he tees off for Otago at the New Zealand men’s interprovincial at Paraparaumu Beach.

It is 15 years since he last played in the tournament, representing Otago at Greenacres a year after his debut at Mt Maunganui.

Bungard, now 38, has since experienced all the highs and lows of golf, and while he has celebrated winning back-to-back Dunedin strokeplay titles, the New Zealand mid-amateur championship and the 2021 Otago matchplay, returning to the interprovincial ranks has made him feel like an excited rookie.

"It’s a weird feeling. It’s like starting again, ha ha," he said.

"I’ve worked hard for a number of years. I didn’t really give up but I just kept playing and tried to keep getting better.

"I had a couple of unlucky breaks every now and then, but that’s what selection is. You’ve just got to put that behind you and use it to motivate you."

Golf can seem like the most intensely individualistic of sports. Indeed, Bungard said the buzz of knowing you were considered one of the top five players in Otago was real.

But it is the team aspect of this tournament that really gets the juices flowing, especially as the Otago men get just one week a year to clash with the top North Island provinces.

"You don’t really get to hide anywhere because everyone is good. It’s a special tournament.

"If you do your part for the team, the team will thrive. That’s kind of how we look at it.

"I got told way back at North Otago that you practise for your team, and you play for yourself. It took me a long time to get my head around that."

Bungard likes what he sees in the team around him.

Youngster Will McLauchlan is at No 1, relative veterans Callum Judkins and Ryan Bellamy know all about the demands of the week, and Wanaka-based Hamish Ireland — making his own return to the tournament after a 13-year-absence — has seen it all after his stint as a caddy at St Andrew’s.

"Ryan has just had a little baby so he’s operating on about 50% sleep. But he’s raring to go.

"Hamish is similar to me — he’s quite methodical in his approach, and he doesn’t over-power the course — and Jud is just a really solid player and has been around for a while.

"Will has come in and just seems to be one of the better players we’ve produced. He’s worked really hard, and I’d say he will look to go professional in the next few years because he is so motivated.

"It’s a grindy team. Very hard to beat in matchplay, I would say."

Bungard started playing golf in Omarama before flourishing on the North Otago course when his family moved to Oamaru.

He subsequently had plenty of involvement with the game through a PGA apprenticeship, stints as a greenkeeper at the Chisholm Links and Templeton clubs, and time on the staff at Golf Otago.

He now runs an irrigation installation business and can reflect with plenty of pride on a playing career that still has much to come.

"I don’t regret anything in golf. I don’t practise as much, and I don’t put as much pressure on myself to do well.

"I think it’s that experience telling me I just need to think around the golf course a little bit more.

"Knowing yourself and knowing your limits really helps."

Otago finished seventh at the New Zealand interprovincial last year.

They open their campaign with a match against Northland and a bye today, before playing Wellington and Manawatu/Whanganui (tomorrow), Bay of Plenty (Thursday), and Tairawhiti and Taranaki (Friday).

Bay of Plenty are the defending champions in a tournament that, remarkably, has had eight unique winners in the past eight years.

Otago interprovincial

Men’s team

Will McLauchlan (Otago), Ryan Bellamy (Port Chalmers), Hamish Ireland (Wanaka), Callum Judkins (Otago), Phil Bungard (St Clair). 
Reserve: Jacob Bellamy (St Clair).