Spine tingling Masters finish spurs Kiwi golfer Daniel Hillier on to take his chance to grab golden Augusta ticket at home

Daniel Hillier, part of Wellington's national interprovincial victory in December, is tackling the big US amateur events ...
GRANT MATTHEW/FAIRFAX NZ

Daniel Hillier, part of Wellington's national interprovincial victory in December, is tackling the big US amateur events in the leadup to the Asia-Pacific Amateur on his home course in October.

Sergio Garcia had his eyes on the prize at Augusta National. So did Daniel Hillier, even if one of New Zealand's top amateur golfers was glued to his television screen, casting his mind a year ahead.

Captivated by Garcia and Justin Rose's final round duel, resting a sprained ankle in his Wellington lounge room, Hillier's countdown to make his own Masters Tournament dream a reality starts now.

It takes in some top United States tournaments in July and the Masters golden ticket on his home course at Royal Wellington in October, with the ultimate goal to drive up Magnolia Lane as part of the field next April.

Green jacket on, and trophy in hand, Sergio Garcia celebrates his breakthrough Masters Tournament victory.
MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS

Green jacket on, and trophy in hand, Sergio Garcia celebrates his breakthrough Masters Tournament victory.

"Just sitting at home watching them [Garcia and Rose] battle it out down the stretch just gives you goose bumps," Hillier said.

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"It's really exciting I've been given this opportunity to get to that stage because that's where I really want to be, playing the Masters with all the best golfers in the world."

Curtis Luck of Australia was the second-best amateur at the Masters Tournament, after winning last year's qualifying ...
JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Curtis Luck of Australia was the second-best amateur at the Masters Tournament, after winning last year's qualifying event the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.

It's a lofty goal but a more realistic one now that the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship is coming to Hillier's backyard where up to 10 New Zealanders will battle the top Australian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean golfers for the trophy and direct Masters entry.

Last October, 18-year-old Hillier made his APAC debut in South Korea and finished a creditable 15th behind Australian Curtis Luck, who'd already booked his Masters berth by winning the US Amateur.

Luck was one of five amateurs to tee it up at Augusta last week. He made the cut and finished tied for 46th on nine-over, three shots behind leading amateur Stewart Hogestad who earned a trip to Butler Cabin alongside Garcia for the official presentation.

New Zealand sent six golfers to last year's Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in South Korea - including Luke Brown, ...
ASIA-PACIFIC AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP

New Zealand sent six golfers to last year's Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in South Korea - including Luke Brown, Luke Toomey and Daniel Hillier - and could have 10 entries in this year's version at Royal Wellington.

"He performed quite well, made the cut and almost came in as top amateur. It makes it that bit more realistic," said Hillier of Luck, a rising star who will now turn pro.

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Hillier and Tasman's Ryan Chisnall, another of the country's top players who contested the APAC last year, get serious about their buildup when both hit the United States for the first time.

Hillier said the pair will contest the Players Amateur at Berkeley Hall, South Carolina, starting on July 11, the Southern Amateur at the Country Club of North Carolina, then the Western Amateur at Skokie Country Club, Illinois. Hillier will also play a one round qualifier for the US Amateur on July 24, in the hope of playing the big one at Riviera Country Club in California on August 12.

"There's going to be some world class players on world class golf courses and it'll be interesting to see how I perform in that environment," Hillier said.

A solid past few weeks was cut short by injury for Hillier, who in 2015 became the youngest NZ Amateur Championship winner at 16 years, 267 days.

After he finished tied for fourth at last month's New Zealand Strokeplay at Hastings, Hillier mixed it with the top pros at the Charles Tour's Akarana Open. After a three-over first round of 73 he stormed back to finish third equal with Mark Brown, two shots behind eventual winner Gareth Paddison and Mike Hendry who fought out a playoff. That included a sizzling eight-under 62 in Hillier's third round.

"I didn't put any extra pressure on myself and it ended up a really good week and showed that I can dig deep when I need to and come away with a result."

It didn't go so well a week later at Muriwai when Hillier withdrew after shooting 80. Carrying an ankle injury already, Hillier stumbled back into a steep bunker when playing a shot and sprained it.

He expects to be back hitting balls later this week in a quiet period where he'll build up for the US trip and steel his focus for his golfing dream.

 - The Dominion Post

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