Mark Brown did his homework and aced the exam.
The Wellington professional arrived in Arrowtown earlier than most to scope out both The Hills and Millbrook Resort courses ahead of the New Zealand Open, then played the latter like a local yesterday to record an opening round of five-under-par 67.
He's tied for fifth, one off the lead held by a quartet of Australians - Andrew Dodt, Terry Pilkadaris, Jake Stirling and Scott Strange.
Brown led the Kiwi charge in the morning and it was taken up by Mathew Perry, Hamilton, Richard Lee, Auckland, and Dominic Barson, New Plymouth, in tougher afternoon conditions. The trio all shot four-under 68s and ended the day tied for 10th.
But Brown was the best of the locals, playing solid, bogey-free golf.
"It was just one of those rounds," he said.
"I've been really good tee to green lately. Today I was a bit loose and had a couple of really poor shots, but I sunk a couple of putts and that kind of shifted my mentality to 'I'm actually playing quite good here' and that gave me that confidence on the greens."
Brown had 30 putts and five one- putts on the back nine.
And that's important for him; at the last New Zealand Open, at Christchurch's Clearwater course, his putter deserted him on the final day and played its part in Brown giving up a three-shot advantage.
He's had a steely determination in his eyes since arriving in Arrowtown and looks as keen as anyone to be the first New Zealander to win the tournament since 2003.
He's mapped out and played The Hills course, but said familiarising himself with Millbrook - even though the players only play one round on the course - was crucial.
"I spent a lot of time [at Millbrook] just because the two nines are so different, with the hardness of the greens and even the way the fairway's are running."
Seven of the top eight players in the field played Millbrook yesterday including the four Australian leaders.
Seven-time professional winner Scott Strange is arguably the best placed as he was the only one of the leaders to play in the afternoon, so was to tee off at 7.52am today.
With poor weather expected - the forecast for Arrowtown includes rain and a bitterly cold wind - getting out early this morning could be a major advantage.
Dodt is also in great shape.
The Queenslander finished runner-up at The Hills the last time Michael Hill's course hosted the event and was looking forward to backing up his Millbrook round on a course which suits him.
Strange and Brown agreed that getting numbers on the board yesterday was key.
That's bad news for a number of the tournament's favourites including Kiwi No 1 Michael Hendry who opened up with an even-par 72 at Millbrook and struggled to get his putter going and sits in a tie for 61st.
Hendry played alongside drawcard and former top-20 player Rocco Mediate who was colourful and a fan favourite, but only managed an even-par round.
The designer of the new back nine at Millbrook, Greg Turner, went one better on "his course" and signed for a 71 to be one of 16 Kiwis under par.
Perry had seven birdies mixed with a double bogey six and finished with a bogey to drop to four- under with Lee and Barson.
Lee, at Millbrook, had an eagle and eight pars on his front nine then three birdies in four holes on the back.
Barson, however, had the shot of the day; holing out with a nine- iron from 154m on The Hills' monstrous, 459m par-four eighth, which is downhill but played in to the wind.
Southland amateur Vaughan McCall had a three-under 69, as did Nick Gillespie, David Klein and the top-ranked player in the field, Australian Scott Hend, while Kiwis Ryan Fox, Gareth Paddison, Brad Shilton and Josh Geary all shot 70.
Geary got to five-under early, but a dropped three shots in two holes.
- The Southland Times