The New Zealand Amateur Championship celebrated its 120th anniversary in style last week at the Manawatu Golf Club. New Zealand Golf Media and PR Manager Peter Thornton was at Hokowhitu to experience all of the drama from our signature amateur event. He looks back now on the Highs and Lows from what was a memorable week in Palmy.


Finding Neho: When all was said and done on Sunday afternoon the biggest surprise of the week was the performance of young Kadin Neho. The 17-year-old from the Whangarei Golf Club made history when he was the first golfer from Northland to hold aloft the NZ Amateur Trophy since it began back in 1893. Neho, who at the start of the week had the goal of making the final 32, was the star turn of the week in what was an unflappable performance. His incredible run began when he defeated No.1 seed Luke Toomey by 2 and 1. Neho was five up after five holes and withstood a spirited comeback from the Waikato amateur to send the top dog packing on day one. From there he went to strength to strength. To make the final he defeated Nick Coxon (4 and 3), Toomey, Bailey Smith (5 and 3) and Steven Kuggeleijn (2up). Every time he came into the tournament office for an interview Neho would be holding his head and say “I am so shocked to come this far”. Before he knew it he was the New Zealand Amateur Champion. It was a week where he came of age which was best summed up by a moment in the final. He is a shy youngster who did his talking with his golf all week. When it came to the final nine holes of the championship match Neho was trying to withstand a strong fight back from Tasman’s Ryan Chisnall. Neho made a meal of the par 5 14th to gift the Greenacres golfer the hole. He was now 2up with four holes to play. He walked past the tournament officials and said “Don’t worry guys, I’ve got this under control”. In that moment it showed a young man who had grown in confidence out of sight. It will be interesting to see what this win does for Neho going forward.

Alvarez’s timely win: Last year Julianne Alvarez walked out of the Mount Maunganui Golf Club in tears. The Wellington No.1 was knocked out of the NZ Amateur at the quarterfinal stage by Lita Guo and she thought she had blown her best chance to win our oldest amateur trophy. Fast forward a year and Alvarez was shedding tears of joy after a complete performance in the championship final against Hanna Seifert. The New Zealand rep, who played the first 18 holes in four under par to be 5up at the halfway stage, was always in control of this match. Seifert came back at her in fits and starts – like an 80 foot putt for birdie on the second time down the 8th – but Alvarez was calm, composed and focused. This was a match that she wasn’t going to let slip by. The old adage that you have to lose a final to win one is fitting here. It was a timely win for the super talented Alvarez who is also an accomplished pianist and a straight A student. She was only the second winner from the Manor Park Golf Club, 20 years after New Zealand Golf legend Lynnette Brooky won the final at the New Plymouth Golf Club in 1993. The Manor Park Club, who celebrated their centenary on Saturday night, had another player of excellence to toast. Alvarez continued Wellington’s tradition of excellence at the NZ Amateur as she became the eighth winner of the coveted trophy but it is the way that she won that should be most pleasing for Alvarez. She came from behind to defeat the defending champion Munchin Keh 1up with some clutch golf under pressure and when it came to the final she dominated Seifert and never gave her a look in. It was a sign of real mental toughness and in Lydia Ko’s absence Alvarez is maturing nicely and raising her game.

Looney Toomes: It was a round of golf that may never be repeated by an amateur golfer in New Zealand. Luke Toomey’s 11 under par 61 at Manawatu in the second round of qualifying was so good it had to be seen to be believed. First of all the course was not playing easy. It was wet and windy and to prove that point the next best score that day was Trent Munn with a 69. Toomey, who holds the course record at Hokowhitu with a nine under par 63, was totally in the zone. He could easily have shot 59 and become the first New Zealand amateur to do so and second Kiwi golfer to shoot golf’s magical number after Richard Lee at the Carrus Tauranga Open. The 20-year-old went out in round two but his 61 captured the imagination of many people in the golfing community. It was deemed not to be a course record because placing was in play. There is no doubt that Toomey is a young player on the rise.

The quality of the competition: After a wet final day of qualifying time was of the essence to get the New Zealand Amateur Championship of 2013 completed. It was less than ideal then that seven matches went to the 19th in the opening round of the match play. While it put pressure on getting the event done we had to sit back and respect the quality of the competition and the clutch golf under pressure to keep matches alive. Speaking of keeping matches alive and the second round contest between Thomas Brockelsby and Jack Leenards has to be one of the longest matches ever staged at a New Zealand Amateur. Leenards had three chances for birdie to finish the match before Brockelsby delivered the defining shot of the match with a rescue to the par four 6th to finally seal the contest at the 24th hole.

Mowing in the dark: We arrived at the course at 6:15am in complete darkness to teaming rain at the Manawatu Golf Club and things were looking bleak. All you could see out on course were the headlights from mowers and the green staff getting the course ready regardless of the weather. We left 12 hours later in darkness and the same sight was seen down the fairways of the historic layout. It was impressive commitment from course superintendent Malcolm Wells and his staff and an obvious reason why this course hosts a number of national events. They get the job done. The past couple of months the Manawatu Golf Club has staged the LawnMaster Classic, the Junior Tiger Final and now the NZ Amateur Championship and it has done a great job every time. We have to pay tribute here to the office and clubhouse team and the volunteers to whom nothing is too much to ask and that attitude is there in everyone you meet. A good example came in round two of qualifying where the rain was halting play in regular intervals and there were more people putting their hands up to squeegee the greens than we had squeegees for.

Neumann!!!: Northland golfer Lee Neumann didn’t make the final 32 at the New Zealand Amateur but he had a memorable week at Manawatu. In the second round of qualifying he made his first hole in one on the par 3 16th which was only the third on the hole since its redesign. It was a special moment for the young golfer as he hit his tee shot to 25 feet short of the hole and it rolled into the cup. According to Manawatu club pro Olly Maxwell, who captured the moment for us with a series of photos, “it was a pure shot that never looked like missing.” Neumann wasn’t done with his impact on the event. He caddied for his good mate Neho in the final and made a timely call in the historic win. Neho, who was 2up with four to play, was looking to take on the 15th in two shots. He pulled his rescue club and Neumann talked him out of it saying it would be much smarter to take a seven iron. He won the hole and went dormy 3up in what was a big moment. Neho said: “Yeah that was a good call, I owe Lee for that one.”

Depth ahead of the Worlds in 2014: Who would want to be a national selector? It is a long way out but the number of guys in particular putting their hands up for the World Amateur Team Championship in Japan is offering the three wise men plenty of food for thought. You’d have to say that there are plenty of guys within striking distance of the three-man team. Vaughan McCall, Joshua Munn, Blair Riordan, Tyler Hodge and Sam An are all guys who are experienced on the international stage but the likes of Nick Voke, Toomey, Cameron Jones and even Neho are playing their way into the reckoning. History has shown that when we have a lot of competition for the places in the team, like we did in 1990 and 1992, then the team normally performs well on the world stage. In the women’s there is plenty of opportunity for all of our elite amateurs to make a statement in the next year or so and make the Worlds team. That would potentially be a career highlight for some of our best women and something they’d never forget.




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