Golf: Asian golfers sign up for NZ PGA Championship

New Zealand golfers still make a large proportion of the field at this month's NZ PGA Championships but there is a growing international flavour, especially from Aisa.

Chinese golfer Zhang Xinjun will be joined by three compatriots when he returns to compete at The Hills in Queenstown from February 28.

The 25-year-old shot a closing 67 to finish 25th last year when he was the only Chinese player in the field. Next month he will be joined by Kevin Huang Wenyi (30), Henry Han Ren (24), an Indiana University graduate, and Li Haotong (17) at the PGA Tour of Australasia event, which this year marks the centenary of the PGA of New Zealand.

Toshinori Muto, who won his fifth Japan Golf Tour title at last year's Kansai Open, Kang Kyung-nam, third on last year's Korean Tour money list, Angelo Que of the Philippines, a three-time Asian Tour winner and Michael Tran of Vietnam are among other Asian golfers signed up for the fast-growing event.

In his rookie season in 2011, Zhang finished 13th at the WGC-HSBC Champions and teamed up with Liang Wenchong in the World Cup, then last year followed his Queenstown debut with two wins on the China PGA Championship Tour.

"I really enjoyed myself in Queenstown," said Zhang, who trains with Huang and Li in the China national team. "The Hills is the most beautiful course I've played on, so I know the other players from China and around Asia will really enjoy competing there this year. It's truly stunning, like a postcard.

"The pro-am format is really interesting for me because you meet famous sportsmen and businessmen, and last year I played with a famous netball player [Julie Coney]. It will be fun going back there with my teammates."

Australian Brendan Jones, third in last year's Japan Golf Tour money list and a 12-time winner in Japan, is the highest-ranked player in the field, while Michael Hendry of New Zealand will defend his title after becoming the first winner under the new celebrity pro-am format.

The tournament mirrors the successful format used in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on the US PGA Tour and The European Tour's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.

Three-time US Open champion Hale Irwin headlines the event which will also include Kiwis Hendry, Mark Brown, Steven Alker, David Smail, Ryan Fox, Gareth Paddison, Josh Geary, Brad Shilton, Phil Tataurangi, Richard Lee and Michael Long.

Former England cricketer Sir Ian Botham, former Australian rugby internationals George Gregan and Nick Farr-Jones, former All Black Justin Marshall and teenage golfing prodigy Lydia Ko will also play.

- APNZ

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