She’s creating history as the first female golfer to grace the men’s New Zealand Open. He’s a popular former international cricketer who’s playing the Open’s pro-am for the first time. Pernilla Lindberg and Chris Harris discuss with Philip Chandler their approach to the 101st NZ Open, which teed off at Arrowtown’s Millbrook and The Hills on Thursday
The first woman to ever play the NZ Open is under no illusions about how she’ll fare against the men.
“It’s going to be an enormous challenge,” Swede Pernilla Lindberg says, “teeing up from the same tees as them.
“They hit it so much further than I do, so I’m not there to prove anything.”
However, says Lindberg, who famously won the ANA Inspiration in 2018 in a major-record eight-hole play-off, “most people who follow both the women’s game and the men’s game, the one thing they do see is that the women tend to be a lot more accurate”.
“So hopefully, that could be to my advantage, so I can at least be walking down the middle of the fairway.”
Lindberg was approached by the organisers to play when they found she’d be in NZ anyway, after playing tournaments in Australia.
She feels “very honoured” to be the tournament’s first female player.
“The tournament has had such a long history, so I just feel very lucky that someone from the other side of the world gets to make that kind of history.”
The experience, she feels, will also deepen her love for NZ, which she first visited when she played the NZ Women’s Open in her rookie year, 2010.
The following year, she and her now-husband, Daniel Taylor, took a two-week South Island holiday after the same event, leaving Christchurch the day before the big quake.
During that trip she fell in love with Queenstown, seeing similarities with the mountains of northern Sweden, which she grew up amongst – she was also a ski racer in her youth.
A year ago, she and Taylor, who’s caddying for her this week, stayed again in Queenstown and choppered over to Wanaka, with immediate family, to get married on Coromandel Peak.
Lindberg confesses 2019 was a “very disappointing” year, but after a good off-season and “a couple of OK finishes”, she’s hoping the NZ Open will be a good experience that “hopefully will help me down the rest of the season”, especially as she’s hoping to represent Sweden again at the Olympics.
She’s also thrilled her pro-am partner’s All Black star Beauden Barrett.
“If you’d asked me a year ago, I would probably have been embarrassed to say I would not have known who he is, but I watched Amazon’s TV series, All or Nothing, where they followed the All Blacks for a season, and I fell in love with the team and all the guys.”
Trembling at the first tee
Former NZ one-day cricket legend Chris Harris says that like most sporting ambassadors playing the pro-am, he would be ‘‘absolutely terrified’’ on the first tee on Thursday.
“It’s hard to explain to people how terrifying it will be, even if it’s only 10 or 20 people watching.”
Harris, who played 250 one-day internationals, including four World Cups, and still plays senior club cricket at the age of 50, says cricket doesn’t help his golf swing.
“Cricketers, generally, when they stop playing, tend to get a little bit better because most cricketers seem to have a big slice — I’ve been working on trying to get rid of that.”
Harris’ 6.5 handicap sounds respectable enough, but he says that’s actually the problem.
“It’s that awful sort of handicap where everyone expects you to be a pretty good player.
“As most people will tell you around those sort of numbers, everything can so easily go wrong, and when it does, people go ‘there’s no way he’s on a 6’.”
Harris says he’s been putting in “heaps of practice”.
“But just when I starting to feel good about things, I go back out the next day and it’s like, ‘oh no, what happened?”’
For his first Open, he’ll aim to “try not to embarrass myself too much, just try and stay out of the pro’s way and try and just help where you can”.