Stuff.co.nz sports news article

Last updated

Daniel Hillier has tamed Pebble Beach once before, but this is still no ordinary week in his golf career.

When Hillier strolled onto the famed California links and bumped into the great Tiger Woods on Monday, it got a lot more real for the 20-year-old amateur from Wellington at his first US Open.

“We said gidday to each other and my stomach jumped into my throat for half a second. That was really cool. It’s been an awesome experience so far and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Hillier told Stuff.

Any small talk? “Just a quick exchange of hellos and he was off doing his business. He’s a man on a mission, that’s for sure.”

A small matter of chasing a fourth US Open and 16th major title for Woods, if you will.

Hillier will be among 155 others trying to deny Woods, after he snared one of 14 qualifying spots at Walton Heath in Surrey, England, last week with a six-under second round of 66. Golfers of the calibre of Lee Westwood and Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston were among those to miss out.

It meant a quick re-jig of his plans to play the St Andrews Links Trophy then this week’s British Amateur Championship in Dublin, and divert to the US with help from his major funder New Zealand Golf.

Hillier knew the significance of Walton Heath, where Michael Campbell qualified in 2005. The man from Titahi Bay, not far from where Hillier went to school at Aotea College in Wellington’s northern suburbs, went on to beat Woods in that year’s open at Pinehurst.

Not that winning this weekend has entered Hillier’s mind as he contemplates his first major before he’s turned pro, making up a Kiwi contingent of two with Ryan Fox when it starts on Friday morning (NZT).

“Pretty unbelievable. I’ve dreamt about it since I was a kid. To be here this week and competing is a dream come true,” Hillier said.

Hillier plans to go to qualifying school in September, but for now not a cent of the US$12.5 million prize pool will be headed his way.

It’s 10 months since New Zealand’s top amateur, ranked 24th in the world, had a career highlight when he was co-medallist at the US Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach.

Rounds of 67 and 70 – including an eagle three when he holed out an iron on Pebble Beach’s par-five 14th – saw Hillier finish first-equal in the 36-hole strokeplay.

Things are a bit different now; a sea of hospitality tents, the buzz of a major and everything the modern golfer could want.

“One thing that took me by surprise was, there’s a barber shop in the player locker room. That’s pretty cool. So I just got myself a haircut.”

On the course Hillier revived some happy memories in his first nine-hole practice with Fox on Monday (NZT).

“It’s definitely going to help, having played here before, but being a major championship there’s no pressure like it. It’s the biggest stage in world golf and very new to me.

“I’m going in with the mindset that I’m doing what I love and what I do best. I’m going to soak it all in and hopefully put up a good performance.”

His entourage amounts to mum Karen and caddie Jay Carter, NZ Golf’s national coach. They made a bet that if Hillier qualified, Carter would make the trip over to carry his bag.

Fox, playing his eighth major, gave Hillier helpful insight about what to expect when he tees it up at 2.31pm local time (9.31am Friday NZT) alongside two American journeymen Zac Blair and Alex Prugh. The latter has one professional victory: the 2009 New Zealand Open which will be a good conversation starter.

Fox tees off in one of the early groups at 2.07am (NZT) alongside Dane Thorbjorn Olesen and Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo.

The feature group is Woods, Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose, off at 9.09am (NZT).

Note: To view Daniels Player Profile and courses statistics for the 2019 US Open click on below link:

https://www.usopen.com/players/49813.html#!tab-shots-and-stats

Daniel Hillier was set to play the British amateur champs this week; instead he’s teeing it up at the US Open at Pebble Beach..