Takahiro Hataji Becomes First Japan Golfer to Win New Zealand Open

Evan Barnes/Photosport via AP
Japan’s Takahiro Hataji holds his trophy aloft after winning the New Zealand Golf Open at the Millbrook Resort, in Arrowtown, New Zealand, Sunday, March 3, 2024.

Takahiro Hataji became the first Japanese golfer to win the New Zealand Open after he finished at 17-under par at Millbrook Golf Resort on Sunday.

Hataji’s four-under 67 was enough to secure his maiden victory as a professional by one stroke when Australia’s Scott Hend lipped out a four-foot putt for par on the 18th green that would have forced a playoff.

The 30-year-old Japan Golf Tour player said the feeling was bittersweet after expecting to play extra holes with Hend, who was seeking to become the Asian Tour events’s oldest winner at the age of 50.

“I’m happy but he played very well too. So when his putt missed I felt very sorry for him,” Hataji said through an interpreter after carding 267 for his four rounds.

“It was a really tough day but I’ve got the trophy so I’m feeling very happy now.

“There will be lots of messages coming from Japan that I have to reply to. I’m just going to enjoy the feeling of success.”

Japanese golfers have twice finished runners-up in the 103 editions of the tournament, including Tomoyo Ikemura last year.

Hataji’s flawless final round featured four birdies, and he hit the front with a tap-in on the par-four 12th when his long drive took him to the edge of the green.

He picked up another shot on the par-three 15th to move two shots clear but 10-time Asian Tour winner Hend birdied the 16th and 17th to climb into a share of the lead before his late three-putt.

There was a three-way tie for third as Australians Anthony Quayle and Matthew Griffin, along with New Zealander Josh Geary all finished at 15-under par 269.