Radical thinking needed over NZ Open

WINNER: Australian 19-year-old amateur Jake Higginbottom has won the NZ Open in Christchurch.
WINNER: Australian 19-year-old amateur Jake Higginbottom has won the NZ Open in Christchurch.

Gone are the days of major winners and golfing royalty gracing the New Zealand Open, but with a couple of small changes it could again be a highlight on the sporting calendar.

We'd all love to see the top players in the world here but those bagging the lack of genuine big names in the top 10 need a reality check.

This tournament is what it is; a breeding ground for young Australasian talent; a tournament where golfing careers on the way up and golfing careers on the way down merge.

Even for top New Zealand golfers, there are better options than a week at home playing for loose change.

Danny Lee can't be blamed for attempting to secure his PGA Tour card over a return home while no-one should begrudge David Smail playing the Japan Tour's season-ending tournament where the winner's cheque is worth more than the total money on offer at Clearwater.

Michael Campbell, on the other hand, just opted for a rest.

After making a promise a few years ago to return every time he could, Campbell returned to his European base last week instead of coming "home".

It's a bizarre decision from the 2005 US Open champion and current world No 288.

Last year at Clearwater he was set up to fail. The organisers talked him up, he was woefully out of form, struggled and missed the cut.

He doesn't like the Clearwater course because it doesn't suit him, but the way he finished the year on the European Tour shows he's in much better nick and would have been far better here.

He owes nothing to New Zealand Golf, having done more for the sport in New Zealand with his 2005 US Open win than coming back for New Zealand Opens ever could.

NZG defended Campbell's decision not to return but behind closed doors it is understood to be part fuming, part relieved.

So, without the likes of Campbell bringing in the punters, what do tournament organisers need to do to breathe life into a tournament that threatens to lose its gloss?

A point of difference would be a good start. The little money that is around to attract players needs to be spent cleverly.

NZG does not offer appearance money but it is happy to spend money on bringing players here and showing them around New Zealand on a golfing holiday of sorts.

"Big name" players like John Daly - now as much a circus act as golfer - are better, and cheaper, options than those in the top 100 who are priced out of NZG's budget.

Columbia's Camilo Villegas has pulling power and is currently ranked 226th in the world.

Two-time major winner Angel Cabrera would be another option. The enigmatic Argentinian is a lowly 278th in the rankings, but with nine top 10s in majors he would be a huge coup for organisers.

The other option would be to make the tournament a trans-Tasman battle.

The organisers get no traction out of the no-name Australians from a marketing point of view so surely jumping on the tried and tested Aussie v Kiwi bandwagon makes sense.

The top five players from each country, or maybe four pros and an amateur make up each team and their scores combined to make the match. Days one through three could be worth a point each and Sunday's final round worth double points.

And the O'Malley-Turner Trophy would make Sunday that little bit more interesting.

The Press