By CRAIG TIRIANA
Inspiration from a mate and a wonky knee has Jared Pender in new territory this year. Tomorrow, the Tauranga Golf Club representative will play at No 2 for Bay of Plenty in their interprovincial quadrangular tournament against Hawke's Bay, Poverty Bay and Waikato at Ohope.
It has been almost five years since the 23-year-old last wore the province colours and his re-selection comes after stunning form in 2006.
Pender was a well-performed member of the region's top club side, which won the Bay of Plenty matchplay and strokeplay titles.
He also finished inside the top five at the recent Waikato Winter, Bay of Plenty, Cambridge and Waikato strokeplay tournaments to prove himself one of the form Bay players and one of the hottest in the country right now.
Pender also finished 17th overall and seventh of the amateurs in Tauranga's Carrus Open.
The consistent streak is a long way from the sometimes explosive youngster who played in the Bay junior ranks when he was 14 and played as high as No 8 for the seniors before drifting away from the game as a sociable teenager.
If it hadn't been for Josh Geary and a rugby injury, Pender may still have been running around on the rugby field rather than swinging his clubs this year.
"I sort of got keen again when I was caddying for Josh when he was winning everything in 2004," Pender said of his mate, who had similar golfing ability when they were juniors and is now the country's No 1 player.
"I was playing rugby for Greerton seniors last year and dislocated my knee ... I started playing golf properly about a month before pennants this year."
The break from the competitive fairways, which Pender first started walking aged about 10, has freshened him up. He's also matured: "I used to put quite a lot of pressure on myself, now I'm enjoying it more."
Pender found himself in new territory: in contention and playing the last group of elite amateur tournaments.
Play begins on Saturday with the hosts meeting Poverty Bay, Hawke's Bay and Waikato respectively.
Bay of Plenty senior: Kevin Smith, Jared Pender, Danny Lee, Mark Smith (c) Ben Guilford, George Kinghorn, Dean Johnson, Kieran Muir, Andre Arthur, Nick Muller.
Bay under-19: Ben Taylor, James Hamilton, Andrew Stewart, Aaron Lougher.