This week's ISPS Handa New Zealand's Women's Open hosted by Christchurch, will see the strongest field ever assembled for this Championship, when play commences at the Clearwater Golf Club, tomorrow.
Three of the four former champions, France's Gwladys Nocera, England's Laura Davies and Australian Kristie Smith are all in Christchurch, whilst, the defending champion, Australian Lindsey Wright unfortunately had to withdraw due to a foot injury.
The field comprises leading players from the ALPG, Ladies European Tour (LET) and LPGA tours, including major championship winners, Davies and Swedes Sophie Gustafson and Anna Nordqvist. Rolex World No. 19 Angela Stanford leads the LPGA contingent, while the LET's 2012 Order of Merit winner Spain's Carlota Ciganda heads the European players.
The 37-year-old Nocera is full of confidence in her current form, rather than drawing on her victory at Clearwater in 2009. The championship returns to Clearwater after three years at Pegasus Golf Club north of Christchurch.
“I have not been back to Clearwater since 2009 and I enjoy being here and happy to be back.”
“It was blowing so hard that day and I remember trying to play safe and not make any mistakes. I didn't expect to win that day but I ended up winning and my friends threw me in the lake ... it has a lot of good memories.”
“I just know I like the place. It has been four years though and a lot can change. I have to take the confidence of my game today. I am feeling good and I am playing good so that to me that is more important and that is what I need to focus on, not what happened four years ago.”
Nocera is also happy to support Christchurch by returning to play in the tournament which is part of the Ladies European Tour, co-sanctioned by the Australian Ladies Professional Golf Tour.
“Yesterday I went to Christchurch city centre. I saw the temporary shops. I thought that was pretty nice and cool to make a city out of boxes. But I did not know the whole centre of the city is closed. It is pretty scary to think what happened.”
Leading the local contingent is current World No.1 amateur Lydia Ko, who has been at Clearwater for over a week preparing.
Ko arrived in Christchurch last Tuesday and has been playing the John Darby and Sir Bob Charles designed course every day and in all conditions since Wednesday.
“I am feeling pretty good,” said Ko. “I came here earlier than usual to prepare because I have only played here once and I have never played a tournament here. They asked me to play the Volvik Masters but I decided to have a break and come here early.”
Ko's commitment to preparation speaks volumes to her desire to perform well in her national Championship.
“It is our country's open. I have played well in other country's opens but I have never played as well I wanted to here. I think I have played the best when I was like 12 or something.”
She wants to live up to expectations on her this week and perform well on home turf.
“It is a pretty important tournament for me because I am a New Zealander and this is the national open. It is not the most important tournament of the year but it is one of the tournaments that I really want to play good at.”
Ko is paired with Stanford and Ciganda for the first two rounds, starting from the 1st tee at 8.10am. American Cheyenne Woods, Smith and Nocera tee off right behind Ko's group at 8.20am, with Australian Sarah Kemp, France's Anne-Lise Caudal and the Netherlands' Dewi Claire Schreefel at 8.30am.
Smith, the 2011 champion, is one of many Australians expected to feature this week. The 24 year old West Australian has been playing her way into good form in recent weeks and is confident of a strong showing. Rising tar, Stacey Keating, a dual winner on the Ladies European Tour in 2012, is the highest ranked player on the ALPG Tour Order of Merit competing this week and along with Kemp, Nikki Campbell, Karen Lunn, Sarah Jane Smith and Whitney Hillier, will be aiming to keep the Championship trophy in Aussie hands.
Other notable groups teeing off from the 10th in round one include Australian Stacey Keating, Davies, Nordqvist at 8.30am, with South African Lee-Anne Pace, Gustafson and Australian Karen Lunn following them at 8.40am,