Hale Irwin heading for The Hills' hospitality

SIMON PLUMB
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2012
Hale Irwin
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COMING DOWN UNDER: Major champion Hale Irwin will play in the NZPGA Championship at The Hills in February.

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It was 27 years ago but Major champion Hale Irwin remembers the one that got away on his last trip to New Zealand.

"Last time I was there I had a chance to shoot 59," Irwin told the Sunday Star-Times.

"It was the 1985 New Zealand Open at Titirangi in Auckland and I remember it well, I had a real good chance to shoot 59 that week. Those opportunities don't come along too often."

The three-time US Open champion and five-time Ryder Cup winner returns in February for the 2013 NZPGA Championship at The Hills. His son Steve, who qualified for the Rory McIlroy-dominated 2011 US Open, will also make the trip.

"I'm looking forward to showing Steve that part of the world. New Zealand has a great reputation in America for golf. The iconic players produced from there such as Michael Campbell and of course, Sir Bob Charles, are great ambassadors."

Charles remains good friends with Irwin, the most successful player in US Champions Tour history, after years of competing against each other. And it's also Charles who helped lure Irwin back to New Zealand shores.

"Sir Bob Charles put the idea in my mind last year and at the time I was busy. The invitation came again this year and I thought, ‘why not?"' Irwin said.

"Bob is a very respected guy and has great stature, he really got a lot out of his game. He just performed consistently and when he was on, his putting was deadly.

"I used to love watching him putt."

With the new-look national PGA Championship preparing for its second year, following a revival headed by iconic Kiwi entrepreneur Sir Michael Hill, Irwin said it's important any developing event creates its own sense of character.

"When you're trying to sell something on the international stage, more than anything it's important for tournaments to establish identity and personality.

"Every great tournament around the world has that. There needs to be heart and soul," he said.

"For a Pro-Am tournament it always helps having stars of other industry along with professional golfers. With the kind of hospitality I know New Zealand offers it's sure to help and with a guy like Bob an integral part of the tournament, there's some great leadership qualities available."

Olympic champion Mahe Drysdale is looking forward to a challenge of a different kind, lining up aside golf professionals in the 2013 NZPGA Championship.

Keen golfer and Mount Maunganui member Drysdale, who holds a 15.7 handicap, has had little time to practise, with golf taking a back seat to his successful London 2012 campaign, but hopes a six-month break from rowing will help restore some consistency.

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"I can hit a good ball but the game isn't so good at this stage. Hopefully I can improve it," Drysdale told the Star-Times.

"I was getting out once or twice a week a couple of years ago, but with Olympic preparation it cut golf out.

"I play most of my golf with Storm Uru and Peter Taylor. It's a game I really enjoy and now I've got six months off rowing so I can spend a bit more time on it."

Last week Drysdale committed to defending his Olympic single sculls title at the 2016 Rio Games.

- Sunday Star Times

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