Stuff.co.nz sports news article

Last updated 10:00, October 4 2018

When to turn pro? It’s a question all amateur golfers constantly face.

New Zealand’s top-ranked amateur, Daniel Hillier, is still undecided when he will make the switch, but the next four days in Singapore will play a part in his thinking.

The 20-year-old Wellingtonian is one of six Kiwis in the 120-strong field at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships (APAC), starting Thursday at the Sentosa Golf Club, a tournament which boasts a dream prize for the champion.

The winner, provided they retain their amateur status, earns an invitation to play in the 148th Open Championships at Royal Portrush, and the Masters Tournament at Augusta National next year.

“For sure, if I was to win this week it would delay [turning pro]. No real set time frame at the moment, but hopefully at the end of next year could be a good time for me. We’ll just see how the next few weeks go,” Hillier said on the eve of the 10th running of the APAC.

Ranked the 19th best amateur in the world, and fifth best in the APAC, Hillier is joined by fellow Kiwis Denzel Ieremia, Charlie Hillier, Luke Brown, Kerry Mountcastle and Matthew McLean in Singapore.

Hillier, who recently combined with Ieremia and Mountcastle to finish fourth at the World Amateur Team Championships in Ireland, has form behind him to justify his ranking, including a 17th-placed finish at the US Amateur Champs at Pebble Beach in August.

“I had a good summer over in the US, I played a lot of tournaments with Denzel. To come away with a few good finishes over there leading into this week, I’m feeling really good,” Hillier said. “So I need to stick to my processes and hopefully it all comes together at the right time.”

He gives plenty of credit for his successful 2018 to his performance at the NZ Open in Arrowtown in March, when he finished in a share of 23rd.

“To be in the final few groups on the final day, and to see how those guys perform under that sort of pressure, was really eye-opening, and it’s really helped me take a look at myself and how I handle those situations.”

Hillier tees off on the back nine at 1.20pm (NZT) on Thursday, and is grouped with Australian Min Woo Lee, the top-ranked (10th) player in the field, and China’s Cheng Jin.

Sister Natalie, who has caddied for him a couple of times in New Zealand, will carry his bags for the first time on the big stage.
“Actually, she did guess a club right today, which was pretty impressive,” Hillier quipped when asked of their dynamic.

“She’s not a golfer herself, but she’s just so helpful in the way she is so energetic and keeps everything relaxed and light hearted for me, which is what I like in a caddie.”

Hillier and Ieremia, who is based at Iowa State University in the US, have had two practice rounds on the par-70 course in the leadup to the tournament.

Temperatures are expected to hover around 30degC the next four days, something Ieremia feels he’s prepared for after the recent hot summer in the US.

“Obviously we all know what’s at stake, but I think focusing on that prize doesn’t really help your performance,” Ieremia said.

Daniel Hillier and sister/caddy Natalie Hillier during a practice round at Sentosa Golf Club.