06 Mar 2023 | Professional golf |

Jones may make late bid for OOM title

by Australian Golf Media

Brendan Jones Queenstown image
Brendan Jones gets a shower for his efforts on Sunday at Millbrook. Photo: Getty

By Tony Webeck

New Zealand Open champion Brendan Jones may delay his start to the 2023 Japan Golf Tour season as he eyes a late charge at the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit crown.

Jones’s first official PGA Tour of Australasia victory brought with it 760 Order of Merit points and a sudden elevation to second in the season-long standings behind David Micheluzzi.

Given that his tie for fifth at TPS Sydney two weeks ago is the 48-year-old’s only other start this season – and that he is not entered into this week’s New Zealand PGA Championship – Jones would need to play both the Play Today NSW Open (March 16-19) and The National (March 30-April 2) to be eligible for Order of Merit rewards.

Of primary interest to Jones is the exemption that the Order of Merit winner receives to the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in July. It has been a decade since the last of Jones’s four starts in The Open, participating at St Andrews last year but in the role of Anthony Quayle’s caddie.

Given he was close to giving the game away when COVID-19 made travel to Japan next to impossible, Jones credits a heart-to-heart with legendary PGA Professional Alex Mercer for breathing new life into his career.

It wasn’t anything technical, just an honest discussion between the master teacher and his long-time student that reinforced the belief Jones needed to play on.

Jones had 17 starts in Japan in 2022 before logging his first top-20 finish, one of two in his final three for the year that gave light to the glimmer of hope sparked by his visit with Mercer.

“I was thinking about throwing in the towel there for a little while but Alex Mercer is just the greatest human that I know,” Jones said in the wake of his three-stroke win at the Millbrook Resort.

“Without thinking that he’s doing much, he’s doing everything.

“Just spending a couple of hours with him changed my outlook on everything.

“All of a sudden, I was positive again and more relaxed. He just told me that I had nothing to prove to anybody and to just go out and play.

“I had fun at the end of last year. I don’t love golf, and when you’re playing bad I really disliked it. But getting into contention again at the end of last year opened the door me a little bit to think that maybe I can still play.”

Turning 48 on the Friday of the New Zealand highlights the vulnerable position Jones found himself in through the COVID shutdown.

Unwilling to put himself through repeated 14-day quarantines, Jones put the clubs down and got on the tools, working as a landscaper in Canberra.

It was a window into a life away from golf that he was open to explore before falling again for the siren song of winning possibilities.

“Taking two years off completely at my age, to do that and then come back and expect to be winning is a little bit silly,” conceded Jones, a 15-time winner in Japan once ranked No.52 in the world.

“Being in contention got the juices flowing again. I had the juices flowing last year but it was all bad. I was missing cut after cut and at certain times thinking that I’ve aged a bit. At my age most people don’t start to get better and with my performances in Japan, grinding just to make a cut and then missed cuts, I was over it.

“I just thought, This isn’t me. I’m normally in contention to win a handful of tournaments a year and I’m not even close.

“Having those chances at the end of last year got me a little bit excited again and this year I felt like I’ve been playing great.”

Jones’ emergence as a genuine Order of Merit threat further tightens a race that now has just three weeks left to run.

Micheluzzi picked up a further 51.72 points for his tie for 17th at Millbrook while John Lyras’s runner-up finish elevated the Sydneysider up 28 spots from 40th to 12th and within reach of Order of Merit exemptions.

The top three of those to have played a minimum four events – Micheluzzi, Andrew Martin and Tom Power Horan – remained unchanged, Kiwi Michael Hendry climbing from ninth to sixth with his tie for sixth in Queenstown. ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit (through NZ Open)

1. David Micheluzzi 1,031.67 (13) 2. Brendan Jones 803.67 (2) 3. Cameron Smith 772.76 (2) 4. Andrew Martin 652.13 (12) 5. Tom Power Horan 609.23 (12) 6. Michael Hendry 528.01 (6) 7. Min Woo Lee 470.00 (2) 8. Adam Scott 456.05 (2) 9. Deyen Lawson 446.46 (13) 10. Jason Scrivener 431.30 (3) Must play minimum of four events to qualify for the Order of Merit

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