Jimmy Zheng (New Zealand Golf photo)
TAUPO, New Zealand (Nov. 1, 2018) – Youth Olympian Jimmy Zheng has produced another career highlight. Zhen led qualifying at the New Zealand Amateur Championship with a round of 5-under 67 Thursday at the Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary.
Zheng was going unnoticed until he sparked into gear making five birdies in six holes through the middle of his round to rocket up the leaderboard. Conditions also helped the 16-year-old with the wind picking up along with flushes of rain.
Zheng, who is having a year to remember after producing a magical round of 12-under 60 at the North Island Stroke Play Championship followed by a trip to Buenos Aires to compete at the Youth Olympics, is excited about the next phase of the prestigious event.
“It’s my first time playing in the New Zealand Amateur, so it’s definitely something I was hoping to get into and it’s a great feeling,” smiled Zheng.
“I’m a lot more confident and shooting low scores is helping that. I learnt a lot from the Youth Olympics and although I have only played pennants match play I can’t wait for tomorrow.”
Mark Hutson and James Hydes ended the day in a tie for second at a total of five-under par with Matt McLean a further one-shot back with an impressive round of five-under par today to build his confidence entering the match play stages.
It was an interesting end to the day with Johnny Tynan, Junior Tatana and Wonjae Heo all playing off for the final spot in the top 32. It was nearly just two of them with Heo eating dinner at the time before he rushed back to flush his tee shot and it took four holes to split them all with Tatana claiming the final spot.
Jack Turner has also finished in style to record an eagle of 18 to sneak inside the cutline on the number. The son of New Zealand Hall of Famer Greg Turner recently won the Otago Match Play Championship.
Korea’s Kum Kang Park claimed the top spot after two rounds of qualifying with New Zealand’s Juliana Hung just one-shot behind.
With rounds of 68 and 72, Park showed great consistency in Thursday’s challenging conditions and will now play Amy Im who snuck into the final place.
Hung, who also played at the Youth Olympics alongside Zheng, was playing safe and steady golf today to secure the second seed with Miree Jung a further one shot back.
The women’s field has an impressive lineup in the final 32 which includes defending champion Silvia Brunotti who looked very comfortable Thursday with a round of even par to finish in ninth place.
Two of New Zealand’s leading amateurs have taken charge at the New Zealand Amateur Championship and were joined late in the day by Korea’s Kum Kang Park. Mark Hutson and Juliana Hung, along with Park lead by three shots after a stunning day at the Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary.
Hutson was the standout with a round of 6-under 66 as he took advantage of the calm morning conditions which included six birdies and zero blemishes to finish three shots clear of defending champion Daniel Hillier and Kerry Mountcastle.
Although Hutson holds a commanding lead after just one round, it’s all about making the all-important top 32 who qualify for the match-play stages of the championship. That will be decided tomorrow after two rounds of qualifying.
“It was a really good day, I played steady golf and nailed a few putts but I’m just trying to finish as low as I can because you never really know what the top 32 is going to be and you want to just keep pushing,” said Hutson.
It’s clear that all the players are enjoying the opportunity to play one of the country’s best courses, which plays host to over 40 different species of wildlife.
“It’s a bit of a gem this golf course and when you get it on days like today, it’s pretty awesome and you want to take advantage when the weather is so nice.”
The cutline for the top 32 is currently 2-over par, and if there is a tie for the final place, there will be a sudden death playoff with all players tied on the number.
Juliana Hung’s round of five birdies and just one bogey proved once again why she is one of the top players as the Cantabrian looks to add the New Zealand Amateur trophy to her cabinet alongside her New Zealand Stroke Play trophy, which she claimed earlier this year.
She was matched late in the day by Kum Kang Park who copied not only her five birdies, but a matching bogey on the 11th hole.
Hung also finished as lead qualifier at last year’s event at Russley Golf Club to only be knocked out in the second round of match play. The 16-year-old is aiming to improve on that and then some at the Wairakei Golf & Sanctuary.
“I made a couple of big 30-foot putts today which was pretty lucky,” smiled Hung.
“I wasn’t overly pleased with my round, but it’s great that I am still leading and hopefully I can keep getting better as the week goes on and improve on last year’s performance.”
2016 New Zealand Amateur champion Rose Zheng is also hovering near the top of the leaderboard as she shows her comfort at this event alongside Australia’s Lisa Edgar who could be a real threat this week after starting her day with four birdies in a row.
With just 47 players in the field, tomorrow will turn into a day of research and a chance to find form for many, but there are still plenty of golfers lurking on the 5-over cutline which could make Thursday afternoon very interesting.