McCall making back-to-back bid

Last updated 05:00 20/03/2013

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Southland golfer Vaughan McCall made history when he won the New Zealand Stroke Play Championship last year but it was only the start of a record-breaking run that was to come.

The New Zealand represenative became the first Southland golfer to have his name engraved on the St Andrews Salver after he shot rounds of 73, 68, 65 and 69 at the Hastings Golf Club to win the title by five shots from Fraser Wilkin.

McCall went on to become the first golfer in 24 years to win both the NZ Stroke Play and NZ Amateur titles, since Victorian Brad Hughes in 1988, when he defeated Bay of Plenty's Peter Lee 6 and 5 in the final at the Mount Maunganui Golf Club.

He became the first Kiwi to do the rare double in 39 years after Tauranga golfer Mike Nicholson won both events at the Springfield Golf Club in 1973.

So naturally, when the NZ Stroke Play begins tomorrow at the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club, McCall will be the player in the spotlight.

"I wouldn't say that there is pressure on me but there is certainly expectation," said the 21-year-old player from the Gore Golf Club. "All I can do is what I do and that is what I am focusing on."

If McCall can successfully defend his title he would be the first golfer to do so since Marcus Wheelhouse won back to back in 1993-1994.

He has fond memories of his come-from-behind win at Hastings.

"After a slow start I got back to my game plan of hitting it straight off the tee and doing my scoring with my short game. I enjoyed the week and it was a bit of a breakthrough win for me."

McCall arrives at Paraparaumu full of confidence after he played a leading role for New Zealand as they finished runner-up to Australia by one shot only at the Ten Nations Cup in South Africa.

"That was the most fun I have ever had on a golf course. We were four shots back and I made birdie on 15 and 16 to my playing partner's bogeys and we were right in it. I had a chip on the last that came up 12 inches short in the heart of the hole but it was a great week with an awesome bunch of guys.

"We all came home with a lot of confidence from that week. I was really happy with how I played and I am excited to see what sort of scores I can post in New Zealand."

McCall, who will face tough competition from Ten Nations team-mates Blair Riordan, Josh Munn and Tyler Hodge, likes the world-famous links of Paraparaumu. He says it's a course that makes you think all the time.

"There are two ways to play it," said the Srixon Academy player. "You can either be positional off the tee and lay up and put your ball in the right places or you can try and dominate it. The game plan I will be taking is going to be determined by the weather. It is pretty windy at the moment with a bit of drizzle but the forecast looks good, so hopefully it is fine and we can shoot some low scores."

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New Zealand Golf general manager Dave Mangan said this week will further the reputation of Paraparaumu as a fine host to the important events in New Zealand.

"Paraparaumu Beach has a great history of hosting big events and you only need to walk in the front door to see how proud they are of their 12 NZ Open Championships with the various photos of each winner," Mangan said.

"Of course it is the only course in New Zealand where Tiger Woods has played a competitive round. It's great to come to one of the best layouts in New Zealand and one of the few courses in New Zealand that has been ranked inside the top 100 courses in the world for our premier amateur stroke play event.

"Considering the lack of rain over the whole country for the last couple of months, the Paraparaumu Beach links is in fantastic condition. There has been heavy rain over the last couple of days which will freshen things up nicely, but the traditional links layout is again in great shape to play well all week. It really is golf at its purest."

The women's championship is wide open, with defending champion Emily Perry turning professional and world No 1 amateur Lydia Ko not playing the event as she prepares for a run of LPGA Tour events.

The likes of Julianne Alvarez, Lita Guo, Munchin and Wenyung Keh will be the frontrunners for the title.

Most of the interest will rest on McCall's performance. His goal for 2013 is to win on the international stage. First though he will try to make history again by defending his NZ Stroke Play title at a special place on the New Zealand golf landscape.

- The Southland Times

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