Short-game clinics from Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen will be front of mind when exciting Kiwi prospect Denzel Ieremia launches his 2020 campaign at the Asian Tour’s Hong Kong Open at the Hong Kong Golf Club from Thursday.
Re-scheduled from its regular slot towards the end of the year and without European Tour co-sanctioning, the Hong Kong Open has been won by Aussies Wade Ormsby and Sam Brazel in recent years, the pair returning as part of the 15-strong Australian contingent teeing it up in Asia’s first event of the year.
Ieremia and Gareth Paddison are the two Kiwis in the field, Ieremia making his third Asian Tour appearance with a growing profile bolstered by his top-five finish at the Emirates Australian Open in December.
Those credentials were enhanced further by an impressive fightback to finish tied for 10th at the Australian PGA Championship where his maiden year as a professional came to a close.
A second round of 7-under 65 at The Australian catapulted Ieremia into the company of PGA TOUR winners Oosthuizen, Leishman and American Cameron Tringale and the 23-year-old underlined his enormous potential to end the week tied for fifth and a rise in the world rankings of more than 250 spots.
Renowned for his power off the tee and ability to go low, Ieremia said that it was the way his accomplished peers managed their short games that will be a focus for him throughout 2020.
“It’s nice to play with some big names and know that I can hang with them. I learnt a lot off them as well, they had some really good advice,” Ieremia explained.
“They basically told me to keep doing what I’m doing, keep playing aggressive, hit a lot of drivers because I’m good at it and just work on my short game.
“I saw a big difference in my short game versus Louis, Tringale and Leish’s short game.
“Leishman was showing me a shot. In the swales it is quite grainy and quite tight. My decision that week was to putt a lot of them and I did it quite well but he had this shot with a 4, 5 or 6-iron and rolled it along the ground and I thought that was so cool.
“I asked them a lot of questions about it, that’s my project moving forward. I’ll figure it out.”
Since turning professional less than 12 months ago Ieremia has registered five top-10 finishes and was top-25 in two starts on the Korn Ferry Tour, a third start scuppered by the expiration of his 90-day US visa.
His strong showing at the Australian Open was intended to be followed by a week off but Ieremia instead returned home and after being granted a late entry won his first event as a professional in record-breaking fashion.
A four-round total of 29-under par saw the Iowa State graduate win the Christies Floorings Mount Open on the Jennian Homes Charles Tour by seven shots and emphasised his ability to tear a golf course to shreds.
As a 15-year-old he shot 23-under in a four-round tournament and opened the South Island Strokeplay a year later with a 10-under par round that provided the platform to a 22-under par total.
“I’ve always had the ability to go low. I figured it out when I was a bit younger,” Ieremia explains.
“I’ve always thought, if you have the ability to get to 5 or 6-under to then put the foot down, want another one. Then once you get to seven, another one, eight, another one.
“Whenever I play now that’s what it’s about.
“Professional golf, you need to have that mindset, especially on the lower tours where the courses aren’t as hard.”
It’s a mindset reminiscent of another Kiwi bomber in Ryan Fox who in a short space of time has also become a fan of the way Ieremia approaches tournament golf.
“We met at the Vic Open when he was a reserve and didn’t get in the tournament but he seems like a great kid,” said Fox.
“He’s obviously got a lot of game which you can see with the results over the Aussie summer.
“For Denzel, the college system in the States probably helped him a lot. That’s pretty cut-throat and they shoot some very low scores. If you want to contend over there you’ve got to do it.
“I always played attacking golf – sometimes very erratic attacking golf – but you still like to take a golf course on.
“I always had that mentality but it took a little bit to figure out how to actually do it.
“Playing pro-ams at home early on you learn pretty quickly that 2 or 3-under might only be enough to pay for your petrol. You need to be shooting those 7s and 8s to be up the pointy end.
“That put me in pretty good stead early on and took that into a couple of tour events as well.
“Once you do it a couple of times when it really matters, you believe you can keep doing it.”
With former All Black and Alama and Silver Fern April in the Ieremia family – and three younger sisters who are star touch players – sporting success is almost expected, yet it is the values instilled by his parents that Denzel holds most dear.
“Mum and Dad have always been amazing role models for us,” Ieremia said.
“They didn’t come from much at all. Grew up kind of in the Bronx in Wellington and both had big families. Dad had four siblings and Mum had 12 siblings and they had nothing.
“They both worked really hard growing up and set an example for us with whatever we did.
“If you’re going to do something do it properly and always be thankful for where you’re at.”