Golf: Pearce seeking clear fairways after year in rough

Mahal Pearce observes the form of son Zac (10) at the Balmacewen course yesterday. Photo by Linda...
Mahal Pearce observes the form of son Zac (10) at the Balmacewen course yesterday. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Mahal Pearce will not be looking back on 2009 with a great deal of fondness. A health scare and a family bereavement overshadowed anything the former New Zealand Open champion could produce on the golf course. He tells sports editor Hayden Meikle why he is hoping for better next year.

Mahal Pearce has never been so pleased to contemplate the beginning of a new year.

It has been a tough 12 months for the Dunedin professional golfer but he is feeling positive about his golf and eager to get back to touring in Australia and Asia next year.

If it seemed like Pearce had disappeared off the radar this year, that is because he effectively had.

He played only a handful of major tournaments, missed the cut at both the New Zealand PGA and the New Zealand Open, and spent more time worrying about other people's swings than his own.

A thinner schedule was always on the cards but it was not completely of Pearce's doing.

Blame his appendix.

"My appendix blew up," Pearce deadpanned.

"It literally just exploded.

"I had to spend a week in hospital, then I got out for a few days, then I was back in for four.

"It really knocked me back.

And it probably set me back about six months in terms of golf."

The medical emergency happened in August in Cambridge, where Pearce (34) had been based for 13 weeks helping his coach, Simon Thomas, work with young golfers at St Peters School.

Three months later, Pearce was healthy but helping his wife, Sally, and his children, Zac and Hannah, deal with the death of Sally Pearce's mother, Elva Simpson, after an illness.

"It's a year I'd rather forget," Pearce said.

"Not so much golf, because at the end of the year golf was actually pretty good, but it was a very hard year off the course."

The year ended with a massive boost for Pearce, who was unsure until recently where his career was heading in 2010.

He played the Australian Masters in November, making a good start with rounds of 71 and 68 before falling back to 69th place over the weekend, 21 shots behind winner Tiger Woods.

Plans to play in the Australian Open earlier this month were shelved following the death of Pearce's mother-in-law.

Needing a decent payday at the Australian PGA a week later, Pearce finished tied for 24th with four consistent rounds to finish 49th on the Australasian Order of Merit, which offers full playing rights to the top 50 earners.

"It's been a couple of seasons since I've been in the fully exempt category," Pearce said.

"I look back over the year and the rough times we've been through, and that makes you realise golf is not the most important thing.

"But 2010 is looking pretty exciting.

"I've got a bit of confidence to go on and do well.

"I'll play anywhere from 15 to 20 events in Australia and New Zealand and also the new One Asia tour."

At least Pearce finished the year better than Tiger Woods.

The New Zealand professional rubbed shoulders - almost literally -with golf's greatest star about a month before Woods' life changed for the worse.

"I almost tripped him up in the locker room.

"I bowled through the door and he was coming the other way," Pearce recalled.

"That was an amazing week, seeing 25,000 people watching one man every day.

"I teed off late on the Saturday and he was about four groups behind me.

"Every hole was lined with people waiting for him."

Pearce, who has been in the professional ranks for a decade, will play the scaled-down New Zealand PGA at Clearwater next month before heading to Arrowtown for another tilt at the New Zealand Open.

He hasn't really enjoyed The Hills, missing the cut there at both previous tournaments.

While he sees the benefits of holding the Open at a spectator-friendly venue, he doesn't think it's a great course for the golfers.

Pearce would like to see the tournament moved around venues.

He thinks it is time the Open returned to Paraparaumu or even Middlemore, the scene of his memorable win in 2003, but he hopes it will not be taken to remote courses like Kauri Cliffs or Kidnappers.

There has not been a New Zealand winner of the Open since Pearce's effort six years ago but he believes the drought will end before long.

"I think a Kiwi will win it very soon and hopefully it will be me.

"There are plenty of talented guys out there.

"David Smail is our best golfer who is always knocking on the door.

"Josh Geary played really well there last time.

"Steve Alker won the PGA.

"Brad Iles played well in America this year."

Pearce gained a five-year exemption from qualifying for the Open when he won in 2003.

He was relying on an invitation this year before his late charge on the money list.


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