Southland will go into next week's national interprovincial golf tournament as one of the favourites, with a strong team named to defend its title.
Southland played its way into the golfing history books last year, winning the national interprovincial for the first time in the tournament's 61-year history.
It is a title the team is certainly not keen to surrender and, with the tournament set to tee off on Tuesday at Balmacewen in Dunedin, selector and Golf Southland board member John Griffin is confident the team has the experience and the talent to retain it.
Four of the title-winning players will return this year, in Scott Hellier, Liam Balneaves (captain), Matt Tautari and Tyler McLean. They will be joined by Jeremy Hall, who has represented Southland at the national interprovincial in the past.
McLean has reaped the rewards of a return to more regular golf this year. He was reserve for last year's title-winning team, playing one round, and will be buoyed by some impressive performances of late as he heads into this year's tournament in the No 1 playing spot.
New Zealand's No 1 amateur, Vaughan McCall, is unavailable for selection after being invited to play in the Australian Open, and Griffin says the fact that the team can call on other experienced players to replace him and Cody Harper, who is undertaking a professional traineeship, is testament to the depth of talented golfers in Southland.
"The team is still strong and had a great performance winning the South Island Interprovincial just two weeks ago. They will be going into this year's interprovincial as one of the favourites," he said.
"There is a lot of experience within the team and they all have their strengths. They've all grown up together; they've been very competitive amongst each other but also very supportive of each other which is a great asset to a team in a competition like the interprovincial."
The team had been working with High Performance Sport New Zealand's Jason McKenzie, which had been of real benefit, Griffin said.
"The work they have done with Jason has been really positive. They are constantly wanting to develop as players and are developing not only their technique on the course, but their mental stability off it.
"You have to come up with new ways to reinvent yourself and it has been really positive for them to work with someone of Jason's experience."
Otago Golf Club, New Zealand's oldest club, has been almost a home away from home for the Southland players and that is expected to play to their advantage. Balneaves holds the course record, while others have all had success on the same course.
The national interprovincial will be played from December 4 to 8.
Southland team: Tyler McLean, Scott Hellier, Liam Balneaves (captain), Jeremy Hall, Matt Tautari.
Reserve: Kyle Dobbie. Managers: Phil McDonald/Karl Mariu
- The Southland Times