Wellington golfer Daniel Hillier has a life-changing opportunity this week in Mallorca.
After winning the final regular-season tour event the 23-year-old rocketed from 45th to 18th in the Challenge Tour standings. The top 20 after this week’s Challenge Tour Grand Final which starts (Thursday night NZT) earn their full European Tour cards for next season.
There’s no cut for the 45-strong field and with the money list congested, Hillier knows nothing short of his best is likely to be good enough to earn a card.
“I’ve definitely made my job this week a little bit easier with that result last week but there are 45 other guys trying to do the same thing who have been playing well, so it’s going to be a pretty tough week.” Hillier told NZME.
“But yeah, I feel like I’m playing really well. So, I’m just going to trust that my game is in a good spot and go out there with the same approach I would at any other event.”
What will make it even more special this week is having his partner Siobhan on his bag caddying for him.
“We’ve made a pretty good team since she decided to come over when I qualified for The Open. It was a massive decision for her due to the uncertainty of her being able to get back home when she would like.
“We managed to get her an MIQ spot back in New Zealand for August 22nd, which meant she would have been over here for just over a month. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a flight to match her arrival date into New Zealand, so we had to let the spot go.
“Sure enough, after that dilemma, we weren’t able to get her another spot, no matter how many hours we spent refreshing the MIQ website waiting for someone to cancel their reservation so we could snap it up. About a month went by, she was caddying for me, and we’d had some good results (all due to her caddying prowess of course) so I asked her if she could stay for the remainder of the season and just forget about the stress of trying to get home.
“She obliged and we spent the next month and a half after that travelling from tournament to tournament, not knowing when we would be able to come home.” Hillier wrote on the latest European Tour player blog.
Hillier took four days off after his win at the Challenge Costa Brava in Spain last month to relax and reset ahead of the season finale.
“So yeah, I just made sure I was all refreshed and ready to go. I’ve been putting a few good days practice in because the job’s not done yet.”
The course in Mallorca should suit him. Hillier is one of the most accurate drivers on tour, ranking 20th in the category this season. Speaking after playing his first practice round, he felt it’s going to be a pretty demanding course tee to green.
“The key is going to be patience and being really disciplined with my approach. The fairways are probably the tightest we have played on all year. It’s a little bit softer at the moment, so that definitely makes it a little bit easier. But yeah, if you’re not hitting it well, then it’s going to be hard to make birdies out there.” Hillier said.
And it’s the nature of the course set up that gives Hillier confidence. “I don’t hit more fairways than the next guy. But, you know, my misses aren’t massive. And so, when I do miss a few, it tends to be by one or two metres. I think you can get away with it out here, there’s a little bit of room.”
“There are certainly, some holes where you look at and think par is going to be a pretty good score. And so yeah, I think, again, it’s just one of those courses where you just have to pick your moments. And there’s a few holes out there which are pretty straight-forward that you want to take advantage of and there’s others where you just have to grind them out.
“If you can’t save par, make bogey at worse. So yeah, I just have to have patience and know when I can and can’t take things on and yeah, just limit the damage when I have to.”
Keeping an eye on the players around him is also going to be a factor this week. Hillier, ranked 18th, has earned 68,884 Euros ($111,223 NZD) going into the finale which is only about 1000 Euros more than the player ranked 21st. He will probably need a top 10 finish to guarantee a European Tour card for 2022.
“A lot of people like to know where they’re at, and other people don’t want to. I kind of sit in the middle and it depends on the situation I’m in.
“A couple of weeks ago, when I was contention coming down the stretch, it was good to know what you need to do coming home because that sort of dictates the game plan.
“But you know, when you’re at a tournament like this… you just need to finish up as high as possible. If you take care of your own job then it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing.” Hillier said.
The difference between securing his card with a top 20 finish overall for the season and finishing between 21st and 30th is massive.
“If I just miss out, I will probably get half a dozen to 10 events on the European Tour next year, maybe similar to what Josh Geary did this year. So yeah, there’s still going to be a few opportunities for me next year, regardless of what happens this week.
“Then obviously, on top of that, if I’m lucky enough, I might get a few invitations as well. But if I get the full card, I won’t have to worry about that.”
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