Strong Japan Tour group expected for Open

Michael Hendry
Michael Hendry
The Japanese challenge looms large for the New Zealand Open in March.

There will be 25 players from the Japan Tour who will line up at the Open in Queenstown on March 1-4.

The Open will take place at the Hills and Millbrook. It is co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour of Australasia and the Asian Tour and continues its partnership with the Japan Golf Tour.

The Japan Tour contingent features nine of the top 20 from last year’s Tour money list, including four of the top 10, and the group from Japan won more than $NZ12million on the Japan Tour in 2017. They have collectively won 62 professional tournaments and more than NZ$80million in career earnings  on the Japan Tour.

Defending Open champion Michael Hendry mostly plays on the Japan Tour and says there  are quality players from the Tour heading to the New Zealand Open.

"The Japan Tour is exceptional and I am incredibly impressed with the quality and the depth on the Tour since I’ve been playing there," Hendry said.

"I’ve played around the world and I am very much enjoying the challenge on the Japan Tour. I am fully tested there every week.

"The players coming here this year are probably the strongest that have ever come to New Zealand. There’s no golf in Japan right now and the Tour players are looking for quality tournament play. They love coming to Queenstown and they are definitely coming in force this year."

The Japan group is led by Hawaii-born Chan Kim, who enjoyed three wins and five top-10s in Japan in 2017, while Steven Han, Hyun-Woo Ryu and Daisuke Kataoka all secured victories on the Japan Tour last year.

Kim, Han, Ryu, Ryuku Tokimatsu and Young-Han Song finished in the top 11 on the money list in 2017 and between them, the group had 21 top-10 finishes in Japan last year.

The group also includes two of the Japan Tour’s most enduringly successful players in Australian Brendan Jones and Kyung-Tae (KT) Kim. The pair have won 27 times between them in Japan, to be ranked 14th and 17th respectively on the all-time Tour money list with more than NZ$22 million.

Tournament director Michael Glading is thrilled with the players coming from the Japan Tour.

"Golf in Japan is flourishing and we are attracting some quite outstanding players. Return visits from the legendary Toshi Muto, on his sixth trip to New Zealand, and Daisuke Kataoka, who was in contention at the recent PGA Tour Sony Open, add a significant amount of quality to our field," he said.

"We are also fortunate to have tremendous loyalty from the likes of Brendan Jones, who remains a superb player and is the only player who is not of Japanese descent to be in the top 20 of the all-time money list in Japan."

Glading expects the Asian Tour players to be confirmed in the next two weeks, and the PGA of Australasian field to be finalised in the middle of next month.

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