A former New Zealand long drive champion has also proved he has plenty of finesse in Whakatāne.

Taranaki's Sam Jones scored a five-under-par 275 over four rounds, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, to claim both the Bay of Plenty Open and North Island Amateur titles by five shots.

Tournament director Chris Alpine said the greens at the Whakatāne Golf Course were pure but the firmness coupled with a changing breeze made scoring difficult, especially for the second round on Saturday. The cut for the men was at 15-over with the women at 11-over.

Leading the men's field into the final two rounds on Sunday was Howick's Jimmy Zheng at two-under with Jones the only other player in red figures on the par 70 layout after opening with 72 and 67.


Zheng finished four-over in both his final rounds but 2018 winner Matt McLean came back into calculations with a 67, 70 finish along with Waikato's James Fellows-Ford with 70, 69.

However, Jones kept getting better and finished with rounds of 69 and 67 to claim the silverware.

"Having only recently returned from college in the USA, little was known of James' ability, but a Google search revealed he was the 2017 New Zealand Long Drive champion," Alpine said.

"Further evidence of this was when he all but drove the 18th on the final round to set up a superb birdie finish."

Akarana's Fiona Xu, 14, won the women's Bay of Plenty Open and North Island Amateur titles. Photo / Supplied
Akarana's Fiona Xu, 14, won the women's Bay of Plenty Open and North Island Amateur titles. Photo / Supplied

Jones said he had hardly competed in any New Zealand tournaments in the last four years as he was studying and playing golf at the University of West Georgia in the United States.

"It felt pretty good [to win], I only got back into the country a week ago. I played in the Wellington Stroke Play the weekend before, went home for a day and then went straight out to Whakatāne."

He has been part of the Long Blacks, the New Zealand Long Drive team, since 2017 when he won the national championship but said finding the balance between power and precision was crucial.

"I've always hit it relatively far and the last couple of years I've been able to rein it in a little bit and start hitting it a bit straighter but it definitely helps.


"[In Whakatāne] my whole game was pretty solid but I was hitting it well off the tee and that just makes the game a whole lot easier when I'm hitting is straight. The greens were really good too, I've always felt like putting is a strong suit of mine as well so when I can match the putting with the driving it makes the game a lot easier."

Jones said he planned to continue playing amateur tournaments for the rest of this year before re evaluating and making a decision about whether or not to go professional.

There were 78 men and 30 women competing at the event, 14-year-old Fiona Xu, of Akarana, claimed the women's titles after opening with a superb 65 backed up with rounds of 68, 71 and 71 to win by three shots over Darae Chung, of Shandon. Bay of Plenty number one Caitlin Maurice took third.

Alpine said Fiona, who was born in New Zealand and of Chinese heritage, "showed all the signs of developing into an outstanding player".

"Her length of the tee was impressive and along with Darae Chung looks a real prospect for the future," he said.

Bay of Plenty Open and North Island Amateur Scoreboard

Men (Par 70):

Sam Jones (Manaia) 72, 67, 69, 67 (275)

James Fellows-Ford (Riverside) 71, 70, 70, 69 (280)

Matthew McLean (Harewood) 69, 74, 67, 70 (280)

Tyler Hodge (Levin) 69, 72, 72, 69 (282)

Jordan Woodall (Cambridge) 71, 72, 67, 72 (282)

Mako Thompson (Maraenui) 73, 68, 71, 71 (283)

Han Sungwoo (Queenstown) 69, 73, 69, 74 (285)

Mitchell Kale (Tauranga) 73, 72, 68, 73 (286)

Jimmy Zheng (Howick) 70, 68, 74, 74 (286)

Women (Par 71):
Fiona Xu (Akarana) 65, 68, 71, 71 (275)
Darae Chung (Shandon) 71, 69, 69, 69 (278)
Caitlin Maurice ( Ōmokoroa) 73, 72, 66, 75 (286)
Angela Ju (Pakuranga) 72, 78, 71, 70 (291)
Danika Lee (Takapuna) 69, 75, 73, 74 (291)
Eunseo Choi (Takapuna) 78, 68, 70, 75 (291)
Caryn Khoo (Pakuranga) 68, 76, 73, 75 (292)
Anna An (Muriwai) 72, 72, 73, 76 (293)
Jessica Green (Futures Geyserland) 77, 70, 71, 77 (295)