The two former Australian winners of the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch have arrived at the Clearwater Golf Club on the back of contrasting seasons in 2013.
Western Australian Kristie Smith, who won the title by three shots at the Pegasus Golf Club in 2011, feels like she is playing the “best golf of my life” after remodeling her swing with new coach David Leadbetter.
Meanwhile Lindsey Wright, who won the event in 2012 but was unable to defend last year because of a stress fracture to her foot, is looking to turn things around in 2014 after a “terrible season”.
But you wouldn’t have guessed it on the weekend at the Oatlands Golf Club for the Bing Lee NSW Open on the ALPG Tour.
The pair contended the title and finished in a share of fifth place.
Wright showed that she is a new player in 2014 with a superb eight-under par 64 in round two that included seven birdies in a row while Smith had a stunning opening round of seven-under par 65.
Both players arrive in New Zealand today brimming with confidence that they can add another ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open title to their name when the event begins on Friday.
“It is pretty special anytime you come back to a tournament you have won before,” said the 25-year-old Smith.
“I have a lot of great memories from my win at Pegasus. It was a fantastic week and it meant a huge amount for my career to get my card in Europe. It is always nice coming back as a former champion and in the form I am in I feel good about my chances.”
Smith made the most of her great form to qualify for the LPGA Tour for the first time in 2014.
“For the past five or six months I feel like I have been hitting it great – probably the best ball striking of my career and I am looking forward to some good results in 2014. If I can get the putter going I feel like I will be pretty competitive and contend for the title.”
Smith credits her change in fortune to the work of Leadbetter.
She went to see him in May and he advised that the changes to her swing could take up to a year to see some results.
“He said it was going to get worse before it got better and he was right,” joked Smith.
“I put in some hard work to change some bad habits that had formed over time but now I am so pleased I did because I am hitting it great and playing with a lot of confidence.”
Meanwhile Wright’s confidence was at all-time low in 2013.
“My swing was all over the place, my pre-shot routine was out of whack and my putting was poor… it was awful really,” said the 34-year-old.
“So it was good to get away from the game and refresh everything. This is an important year for me for getting back on track and it started [last week] in NSW and then [this] week in Christchurch.
“I am feeling pretty good about my game. This year is exciting for me as I feel like I am in a good space to turn things around. All it takes is for a couple good rounds to get the confidence and belief back and then you are away.”
For Wright it is nice to return to the event that she won at Pegasus in 2012. She will get familiar with the Clearwater Golf Club as she plays the course for the first time.
“I know absolutely nothing about Clearwater. I have been told that it is a bit tighter than Pegasus and it is windy there and that is was cold when Glwadys [Nocera] was thrown into the lake when she won the first event. That is all. I am looking forward to seeing it for myself and setting up a game plan.”
Meanwhile Smith enjoys the challenge of the John Darby and Sir Bob Charles designed layout.
“It is a difficult track especially when the wind gets up. But it is difficult for everyone and you have to play sensible golf. It is a good place to host the New Zealand Women’s Open because if you win there you know that you have played three days of solid golf.”
Both Wright and Smith said the ISPS Handa NZ Women’s Open is an important event for golf in this region.
“It is great to have this tournament on the ALPG Tour and it has been great to see it go from strength to strength in the past few years,” said Wright.
“It is a really enjoyable week and an important tournament for New Zealand and Australian golfers. It is not surprising that all the former champions are coming back because it is a great tournament and one that all the players really enjoy.”
Smith added: “I don’t know why but I feel very comfortable in Christchurch. It is like home and New Zealand is such a beautiful place. I always love coming to Christchurch. That helps you play well at a big tournament.”
Smith and Wright are two of the five former champions returning to the event alongside Gwladys Nocera (France), Laura Davies (England) and World No.4 Lydia Ko (New Zealand).