In 2010 Daniel Nisbet arrived in Queenstown having been banished to golf’s equivalent of purgatory. Eight years later the Australian leaves as the ISPS HANDA New Zealand Open champion after one of the finest closing rounds in the championship’s 99-year history.
Nisbet’s flawless nine-under-par 62 gave him a two-stroke triumph over Terry Pilkadaris at Millbrook Resort near Queenstown. It was the second title on a major tour for the 27-year-old from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
Nisbet’s aggregate of 258 smashed the tournament record – 262 set by Rodger Davis at The Grange in 1986. And his 27-under-par tally also bettered the lowest score to par – 26 under by Kel Nagle in 1964 at Christchurch Golf Club.
“We have some great family ties with Kel Nagle,” Nisbet said.”One of my neighbours who recently passed was a great friend with Kel and they kept him updated with my junior golf. It is a surreal thing to be put up against him and beat his record when there is so much extended family history with him.”
However, it’s the journey Nisbet took that makes the victory all the sweeter.
Nisbet first came to Queenstown as a caddie in 2010. Then a 19-year-old hotshot amateur, he had been banned from playing tournaments for 18 months (Nov 2009-May 2011) after being found guilty of possessing a prohibited substance by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Australia.
Nisbet was in possession of an over-the-counter steroid when stopped at Brisbane airport when re-entering Australia after representing his country in Canada. But he never tested positive for any drug.
The suspension derailed the career of the 2008 Australian Boys’ champion at an important stage of his development. However, the manner in which he reined in Pilkadaris showed just how far his game has progressed.
Starting the day six strokes behind the journeyman, Nisbet used his power to subdue Millbrook. The difference proved to be how Nisbet played the resort’s three par 5s in four under on Sunday while Pilkadaris played them in even par.
After going out in three-under 33, Nisbet made an eagle 3 on the 10th to get within one stroke of Pilkadaris who began with 10 straight pars. By then it had become a race in two. And Nisbet was about to hit the accelerator.
His approach to the 14th finished within tap-in range. From the rough on 15, he put his second to four feet for another birdie. He got up-and-down from a greenside bunker on the drivable 16th for another birdie. Then after reaching the par-5 17th with his second, he two-putted from 80 feet for a fourth straight birdie to get to 27 under.
The adrenalin was pumping by the time he reached the par-3 18th green. He backed off twice with his birdie putt, which he sent six feet past the hole. But he held his nerve and holed the return putt. When Pilkadaris failed to birdie the 17th the Brodie Breeze Cup belong to the Queenslander.
Worth AU$191,000, the biggest victory of Nisbet’s career easily surpassed his win at the 2016 Clearwater Bay Open on the PGA Tour China. He now has an Asian Tour card, three starts on the Japan Golf Tour and leads the PGA Tour of Australasia order of merit.
“I played really well this week. I played really well two weeks prior as well. What this leads to in the future, I don’t know. My coach Richard Woodhouse, my wife Ashley, she does all my training for me, all my programmes – we just want to keep doing the same thing, it’s working at the moment. Hopefully, I’ll get a few more starts out of this win and try and replicate it.”
Despite going bogey-free, Pilkadaris was understandably gutted after letting a substantial lead evaporate. “They all string. I’ve had a bunch of them,” said the Melbourne-based pro who last won in 2005.
“I didn’t make enough birdies. I didn’t make the 10 footers I had been making . . . I kept having downhill and curling putts – a couple of shots just not close enough on 16 and 17.”
American Jarin Todd was five strokes back in outright third on 22 under.
Rookie Nick Voke was the leading Kiwi, finishing T-7 on 20 under. Mark Brown and Tim Wilkinson were T-11 on 18 under.