In-form Hillier eyes Charles Tour challenge

Daniel Hillier has seen the promised land.

The Aotea College golfer has proved he can shoot low when he has conditions to suit.

Hillier rattled off practice rounds of 64, 60 and 61 over three successive days at the end of January.

The 60 was achieved at his home course, at Manor Park, with the 64 and 61 at Royal Wellington’s Heretaunga course.

The practice rounds were not played off the back tees, which encourages low scoring, and a shorter course provides relatively easy pickings for the elite players. But even so, a tally of 22 birdies, three eagles and an albatross over three rounds suggested that Hillier’s game was in good shape.

In addition, his previous best under similar conditions had been a 66.

“We sometimes play off those tees when we don’t have any big matches that week,” he said. “It teaches you to play low and puts you in an attacking frame of mind.

“I was hitting my woods really well and drove a couple of par fours. And instead of a mid-iron into the par fours, you were usually playing a little wedge or pitch shot.

“But it’s not that much different off the back tees, just a bit further, and those sorts of rounds do give you a bit of confidence that you can go low.

“I had an eight-footer to shoot a 59 [at Manor Park] and it just shaved the hole. When I was over the put, it felt like it meant something, which shows how much one shot can change your mindset.”

Hillier also recorded his first albatross during his round of 60 at Manor Park, with a two on a par five. “I had a little pitch shot into the green and managed to hole it.”

His good form has not been restricted to practice rounds and the 16-year-old year 12 student appears to have taken his game up a level since making a stunning debut in the national interprovincial tournament in December.

Playing at No 4 for Wellington, Hillier won his first six matches and suffered his only defeat when losing his semifinal match one down.

He has since won the first three Wellington order of merit tournaments and finished second equal in the North Island under-19 championships.

“The interprovincial was a big eye-opener for me but I had a good week. It gave me some reassurance that I’m making progress and gave me quite a bit of confidence leading into 2015.”

Hillier defended his title in the Te Marua Masters, a 72-hole tournament in late December, clinching the win by recording 68 in each of the last two rounds.

He then won the Wellington Summer Cup, over 36 holes, and last weekend’s Oliver Cup at Manor Park.

He got a kick from his Summer Cup win, as he began his golf career at Judgeford, and ranks his two rounds in the Oliver Cup as among the best performances of his career.

He recorded 66 and 69 in windy conditions on Waitangi Day , winning by 11 strokes over a field that included his Wellington interprovincial team-mates Jonathan Cane and Brayden Mazey. No other player shot below 72 over the two rounds.

The North Island under-19 was at Lochiel, in Hamilton, last month and Hillier shared second place with three others, two shots behind Waikato’s Sam Vincent, in the 54-hole tournament.He hopes to maintain that form when he steps up to the national stage over the next couple of months.

Hillier will make his debut on the Charles Tour, which is also open to professionals, when he contests the Lawnmaster Open at the Manawatu course next month.

“I’m pretty excited about [it]. I didn’t play on the tour last year, because I wanted to get a bit more experience. But I think I’m ready to take that next step.”

The Lawnmaster will be followed by the New Zealand stroke play championships, at Paraparaumu, with the New Zealand Amateur in Auckland in April. “It will be good to have the stroke play on a local course.”