The ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch has a penchant for unveiling tomorrow’s golf stars today. Last year it was Swedish rookie Caroline Hedwall, who progressed from the event to win four times to be third on the Ladies European Tour money-list. This week it may be young English hope Jodi Ewart that shines in the 54-hole championship at Pegasus Golf and Sports Club.
The 24-year-old won the Ladies European Tour’s qualifying school a few weeks after finishing fourth in the final Q School for the US LPGA Tour.
Ewart, now based in Florida, is aiming high this year starting in Christchurch this week.
“Honestly I want to finish in the top 50 on the LPGA Tour and I want to win the LET Rookie of the year so I have some big goals to achieve,” Ewart said.
The Yorkshire-born, US Collegiate-trained golfer has some inside knowledge of New Zealand via her friendship with kiwi international Natasha Krishna.
“I am really good friends with Natasha after playing college golf in the States together and she has been telling me about New Zealand for a long time so I am excited to finally get there.
“Natasha has told me a bit about Pegasus and how to play there. Natasha has told me mostly about her bad shots there so I am trying to not listen to her too much,” Ewart joked.
Ewart graduated from the University of New Mexico where she recorded five wins, a two-time All American and won the English Amateur title twice. She played for Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup in 2008, although she skipped the 2010 event to turn to the paid ranks.
She had five top-10s in 11 starts in 2010 in the Duramed Futures and last she had four top-10s but on both occasions was just outside automatic elevation to the LPGA.
Ewart produced some devastating play at the qualifying schools on both sides of the Atlantic. Last December she shared fourth place in the five-round Q School to advance to the LPGA before heading to Spain where she was runner-up in the first stage before topping everyone on 11-under in a further five-round battle.
“The mental side of my game is one of my real strengths and to win that event against that top quality field was really pleasing and it gives me a lot of confidence going into the year ahead that I can have some good results.
“I feel like my progression to professional golf has been a really natural one. I learned a lot playing as an amateur in the American College system and then kept on that pathway with a year and a half on the Futures Tour. When I got to the qualifying for the LPGA or the LET I didn’t feel like I was out of place and that has helped with making the next step.”
Ewart’s power game may be an advantage on the open surrounds but sometimes windy surrounds at Pegasus this week.
“Everybody I have talked to about Pegasus have had nothing but good things to say about the course and the tournament in Christchurch.
“Wind is not really a problem for me I enjoy it. I find it helps my game and really helps me focus on the shot I am trying to hit and where I am aiming. I grew up playing golf in England and in New Mexico where the wind in spring would blow up to 50 or 60 mph so I have a lot of experience in the wind and hopefully it helps at Pegasus.”
Half of last year’s top-10 finishers from the Ladies European Tour are returning, including champion Kristie Smith (AUS), runner-up Giulia Sergas (Italy) and Sweden’s Linda Wessberg (seventh).
Twenty-nine year old Welshwoman Becky Brewerton, a four time winner on the LET, is returning after a strong 2011 season including victory in the Tenerife Matchplay as well as runner-up at the Turkish Open.
England’s Felicity Johnson will stake her claim on the back of an excellent 2011 season where she won the French Open among six top-20 finishes, while Norway’s striking Marianne Skarpnord, a two-time LET winner, is back fit and healthy after injury forced her out last year.
Wessberg enjoyed her time at Pegasus last year, one of five top-10 finishes on the LET while compatriot Pernilla Lindberg enjoyed five top-seven finishes in a row with her best a runner-up at the Suzhou Taihu Open.
Sergas impressed many last year. The 33-year-old had her chances to take out the title, but eventually had to be content with a share of second place. The former European amateur champion is still chasing her breakthrough victory on the LET and with a liking for the Pegasus course, it may come in 2012.
Compatriot Veronica Zorzi, a three-time LET winner, makes her first appearance here while Scotland’s Vikki Laing, a four time former amateur champion and US college success, should be a factor especially in the famed winds blow.
While there are strong representation from Australia and the LPGA, the winner, for the third time in a row, may come from the co-sanction partners, the Ladies European Tour.
The pro-am is on Thursday with the 54-hole contest starting on Friday.