Higginbottom holds nerve to claim NZ Open
Winner: Jake Higginbottom poses with the trophy. Photo: Getty Images
Australian youngster Jake Higginbottom held his nerve to secure a one-shot victory and become the first amateur in more than half a century to be crowned New Zealand Open champion.
On an afternoon when the wind stayed away at the Clearwater Golf Club in Christchurch, the 19-year-old from NSW finished with a five-under 67 on Sunday to be seven under for the tournament.
Tied for second were Victorians Jason Norris, who went 12 under for the weekend with a pair of 66s, and Peter Wilson, who closed with a 68.
Overnight leader Mark Brown's bid to become the first New Zealander to win the championship since Mahal Pearce in 2003 ended in disappointment.
Brown went into the final day with a three-shot cushion but couldn't create any momentum to card a 73 and end up fourth, three shots off the pace.
The last amateur to claim the title was Australian Harry Berwick in 1956, who achieved the feat across town at the Shirley club.
Higginbottom showed plenty of composure as he fought his way to the top of a congested and changing leaderboard.
He hit the front for the final time with his eighth birdie of the round at the par-four 17th and then safely negotiated the closing hole.
It was at the 18th on day two that he put his approach shot into the water while leading the tournament, but that mishap didn't inhibit him.
"I actually talked about the 18th with my mates before the final round," he said.
"They asked me what I would do if I had a one-shot lead down the last and I told them I would just rip one down there."
He said he was most nervous as he stood over a one-metre par putt to close out the championship.
"It was nice to see that drop and to win is really good."
Higginbottom was runner-up in last year's NSW Open and this year took out the Riversdale Cup amateur event in Melbourne.
His latest success brought an emotional response from his family.
"Mum was crying and dad was just happy I made a good speech," he said.
Higginbottom began the day three shots off the pace.
By the 15th, he was the outright leader after consecutive birdies, but immediately dropped a shot after a wayward tee shot.
He hit straight back on the 17th with a birdie that was set up by an approach that landed two metres from the hole.