NZ Open 'lacks X-factor' says Brown

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2012
Mark Brown
Getty
CHANGE NEEDED: Wellington golfer Mark Brown believes a co-sanctioning deal and a change of dates would do much to attract a higher profile field to the New Zealand Open.

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Mark Brown would play the New Zealand Open for a peanut slab but he admits the absence of New Zealand's top players and some of the bigger name Australians is frustrating.

The former European Tour winner is one of the favourites teeing off tomorrow at Clearwater where compatriot Michael Hendry is the highest ranked player at No 350, and Brown acknowledged the fact that organisers couldn't attract "names" was disappointing for the tournament.

New Zealand's highest profile golfers Danny Lee and Michael Campbell are not here, there are no instantly recognisable Australians - Nick Cullen is the highest-ranked Aussie at No 383 - and as for overseas drawcards, you won't see any this week.

That's great for hopes of a first New Zealand win since 2003, but not for the tournament's profile.

"It's just lacking that little bit of X-factor," Brown bluntly stated yesterday.

"I think it does [take the gloss off] but it's just so difficult at this time of the year with scheduling. There are Q-schools, big money events in Europe and guys trying to keep their cards in the States so I don't know if you're ever going to have a perfect date.

"I'm sure the organisers look into it and try and schedule it as best they can but sometimes it just doesn't work. It's frustrating for everyone involved that we can't get at least all the top New Zealand guys back and even a few of the top guys from Aussie and around the world."

Organisers, New Zealand Golf and Tuohy Associates, have their hands tied to some extent. Lee is involved in the PGA Tour qualifying school and simply couldn't make it to Christchurch. As it transpired Campbell could have, but his focus was on making the big money event in Dubai on the European Tour this week (he subsequently missed out) and wasn't planning to fly to Christchurch.

There's also the stance that they won't pay appearance fees, a must these days to get any golfers of genuine note, and prizemoney of $400,000, less than half that on offer at the big three Australian events this summer.

But Brown offered suggestions to get around those obstacles, including a return to co-sanctioning - the last time it was co-sanctioned with the European Tour was in 2007 - or playing the Open and NZ PGA Pro-Am Championship in successive weeks.

"I don't know enough about it but maybe if we could get this and the PGA back together again it might attract guys to come over for a couple of weeks," the world No 444 said.

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"I'm sure a lot of the Aussie guys looked at the prizemoney and thought it might be a good week to have off. It's just the way it is. You'd certainly need help with a couple of Aussie tournaments at the same time but to me if we could get three or four tournaments co-sanctioned with Europe . . ."

As it happens, this is Brown's first Open since 2007, with his own European Tour commitments having got in the way since then.

"Any national Open is huge and I think I'd speak for most of the guys in saying we'd turn up and play for a peanut slab, the prizemoney is irrelevant. It's been frustrating the last few years as it always clashed with Hong Kong when I was playing in Europe.

"It's something I've definitely missed and when I've finished playing it would be great to have this tournament on the list I've won."

Brown has had a quieter schedule in 2012 after playing close to 100 tournaments on the European Tour from 2009-11 before losing his card.

He is thriving, however, sitting third on the Australasian Tour order of merit and ninth in OneAsia. He has also won this year, at the Tauranga Open on the Charles Tour.

"It's just a matter of doing what you do every week, turning up and hopefully being able to handle the pressure of playing here," Brown said

"I think my game is in a good place to do that, it will just be a matter of holing a few putts and getting a bit of luck."

- The Dominion Post

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