Hataji creates history at New Zealand Open

3 minutes read
Posted 4 March, 2024
Screenshot 2024 03 04 070752

Takahiro Hataji becomes the first Japanese player to win the New Zealand Open. Photo: Photosport

Takahiro Hataji has become the first player from Japan to win the New Zealand Open in its 103-year history.

On an absorbing final day at Arrowtown's Millbrook Resort on Sunday, Hataji held off a persistent stream of potential challengers to win by a single stroke from Australian Scott Hend.

The 30-year-old from the land of the rising sun hit a bogey-free final round including four birdies (67), to lift the Brodie Breeze Trophy and take home $334,800 in prize money. He finished 17-under par across the four rounds.

Co-leader overnight, Australian Scott Hend (69) arrived at the 18th hole with a share of the lead.

After hitting his tee shot to the back edge of the green, his putt for the championship ran five feet past, and his come-back putt for par to send the contest into sudden death lipped out.

“It was a really tough day but I have the trophy so I am feeling very happy now,” Hataji said.

“I’m happy but he played very well so when his putt missed I felt a bit sorry for him too,” he added of Hend’s final hole misfortune.

Kiwi hope Josh Geary who shot 69, required treatment for his troublesome back on the 12th tee yet battled on gamely to keep himself in the mix.

A birdie at the par-5 17th kept his faint hopes alive and a par at the last earned a share of third with 2016 New Zealand Open winner Matthew Griffin (70) and Anthony Quayle (67). It is Geary’s fourth top-five finish in his national Open.

“I am absolutely proud of my week, especially as I have lacked international play the last few months,” said Geary. “To come here and hold my nerve when things weren’t going great is rewarding. Couple of putts here and there and who knows. I would love to come back here and get the job done. Sometime we will do it.”

One back at the start of the final round, Hataji joined Hend and Griffin at 14-under with a birdie at his opening hole and was never headed at the top of the leaderboard.

Australian Ben Wharton rocketed into contention with a final round of 7-under 64, posting 14-under in the clubhouse as the lead groups were just getting their final rounds underway. That stood until Quayle signed for 15-under but Hataji was always just out of reach.

Hend missed a number of birdie opportunities early in the back nine but drew to within one when he converted a birdie chance from just four feet on the par-4 16th, the hole where he holed out for eagle 24 hours earlier.

Seeking to surpass Kel Nagle as the oldest winner of the New Zealand Open in the modern era, Hend backed up his birdie on 16 with birdie at the par-5 17th to join Hataji at 17-under and set up a thrilling climax for the large crowd gathered around the 18th green.

His tee shot released to the back edge after landing just to the right of the flag, his three putts a cruel way to be denied his own shot at history.

Led by Geary’s tie for third, seven New Zealand golfers finished inside the top 20, including outstanding amateur Zack Swanwick. The US college-bound Swanwick closed out a superb tournament with a 3-under 68 for 13-under total and a tie for 10th, along with the Bledisloe Cup as leading amateur.

“It’s a great experience,” said Swanwick. “I learned what I needed to from the Australian Open, and I came here to try and implement what I learned. I think I’ve done pretty well.”

In the pro-am team competition, Indonesian Jonathan Wijono and amateur partner Jubilant Harmidy shot 14-under 57 in the final round to win by two strokes at 39-under par.

Boasting five top-five finishes on the Japan Golf Tour in 2023, Hataji is not only the first player from Japan to win the New Zealand Open but the first from Asia, surpassing the runner-up finishes of countrymen Tomoyo Ikemura (2023) and Hideto Tanihara (2016).

He also becomes the first Japanese winner on the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia since Isao Oaki won the 1989 Coca-Cola Classic at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.


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