Provincial pride on the line
Manawatu-Wanganui amateur Josh Munn rated it as one of the finest moments of his young golfing career.
A year ago he led his province to only their second title in one of the most exciting playoff wins of the SBS Invitational, which dates back to 1977 at the Invercargill Golf Club.
At the end of 72 holes of team strokeplay, with the best three out of four scores counting, nothing separated one-time winners Manawatu-Wanganui and defending champions Auckland, who had won the title 10 times.
The respective No 1 players, Munn and James Eng, squared off in the playoff. On the first hole Eng made a birdie from six metres to put the pressure on Munn who made his birdie chance from three metres to stay alive.
Munn returned the favour on the second playoff hole with a putt for birdie from six metres and again Eng responded in kind with a birdie from two metres.
On the third hole Munn came up with the decisive blow. He holed a 14m birdie putt and when Eng missed his chance from four metres, Manawatu-Wanganui had won the title for the first time since 2002.
"It was a great way to finish it off for the province," Munn said. "It was a three-hole playoff and, yeah, I had three birdies in three holes so it was nice to get it done in style."
Munn said consistency in their team selection should help their chances of winning again.
"We have almost the same team with Junior Tatana coming in for Malcolm Wells, so only one change, and all the boys are confident after last year. You always want to go back-to-back at a tournament like this. We'll be going out there with one thing in mind: to win it again."
A two-time winner on the Charles Tour, Munn has his eyes on breaking the Otatara course record of eight-under-par 64.
"I hope I can break that this week and if not me then hopefully one of my team-mates will."
Manawatu-Wanganui boast a powerful lineup. In Munn and Tyler Hodge (Levin) they have two of the four players who led New Zealand to second place at the Ten Nations Cup in South Africa.
Southland, with New Zealand amateur and strokeplay champion Vaughan McCall at No 1, are looking to win the title for the first time.
The fourth player from the Ten Nations Cup team, Tasman's Blair Riordan, returns to a happy hunting ground where he'll look to defend the individual title he won in 2012 on a 12-under total.
Auckland will once again pose a strong challenge alongside Canterbury and Wellington.
For the first time, a PGA of New Zealand Trainees team has been included in the event. It is a strong team on paper with respected professionals Sean Riordan, Cody Harper and Mathew Holten.
The PGA team can win the title but cannot claim the trophy as it is deemed a national amateur teams event.
"It is very exciting to have a PGA team part of the prestigious SBS Invitational," said Dominic Sainsbury, education manager of the PGA of New Zealand.
"The boys are really excited to compete with some of the best amateur players from around New Zealand like they have on the Charles Tour but in a teams format."
For Phil Aickin, golf manager with New Zealand Golf, the Invitational is an important teams event.
"Otatara is a historic venue that has hosted every major New Zealand championship, including the New Zealand Open," said Aickin, who won the Invitation five times with Auckland.
"The course, while short at today's standards, provides an excellent test and with the calm conditions forecast I expect very low scoring. This format provides an excellent team concept, one that the players enjoy. They represent their district with real pride and this is a much sought after trophy."
The two-day tournament begins today, with 36 holes played each day.
Aorangi: Cameron Grant, Damian Rodgers, Josh Smith, Matthew McLean, George Wardell
Auckland: Sam An, Nick Voke, Tae Koh, Jonathon Ratcliffe, Shiv Sabherwal
Canterbury: Jordan Bakermans, Owen Burgess, Oscar Cadenhead, Jason Yoo, Shaun Jones
Hawke's Bay: Blair Shaw, Russell Mitchell, Madison Noakes, Carlos Tawera, Nick Radonich
Manawatu-Wanganui: Josh Munn, Tyler Hodge, Trent Munn, Lachie McDonald, Junior Tatana
Northland: Luke Brown, Alex Neely, Chase McKeown, Kadin Neho, Lee Neumann
Otago: Brent McEwan, Kayne Wardell, Samson Kim, Mitch Bosley, Michael Smith
PGA Trainees: Sean Riordan, Cody Harper, Mathew Holten, Rob Ilott, Joel Macklin
Poverty Bay-East Coast: Andrew Higham, William Brown, Rael Pederson, Tony Akroyd, Tene Goldsmith
Southland: Karl Mariu, Vaughan McCall, Tyler McLean, Liam Balneaves, Jeremy Hall, Scott Hellier
Taranaki: Brad Hayward, Jamie Reid, Zachary Lewis, Joseph Doyle, Samuel Jones
Tasman: Blair Riordan, Ryan Chisnall, Tom Dasler, Brook Hale, Nick Loach
Wellington: Marc Jennings, Fraser Maclachlan, James Donnelly, Brayden Mazey, Adam Church
The Southland Times