Daniel Hillier is keener than most to be playing at the 2017 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in New Zealand as the country’s top teenager is a member of the event’s host venue, Royal Wellington Golf Club.
Later this month, Royal Wellington will host the New Zealand Amateur which has been scheduled for October 27-30 so the historic club – founded in 1895 – can use it to prepare for the ninth AAC (October 26-29, 2017).
Hillier, 18, will be the defending champion in the ‘Windy City’ having won the title in Auckland in April 2015 when he was only 16. He became the youngest winner in the tournament’s 122-year history, beating Danny Lee’s record by five days.
This week Hillier made his AAC debut in Incheon as part of a six-strong New Zealand squad featuring the trio – Luke Toomey, Nick Voke and Ryan Chisnall – who finished sixth in the World Amateur Team Championships in Mexico two weeks ago.
Although the squad’s youngest player by over two years Hillier is firmly established as his country’s most exciting teenage prospect following a stunning 18-month run that started with his surprise New Zealand Amateur victory.
After turning 17 in July he added the New Zealand U19 Stroke Play title in Wellington in September and a month later even beat the pros on the Charles Tour to win the Harewood Open.
This March Hillier was the leading amateur at the New Zealand Open in Queenstown and the following month won the Australia Junior Amateur in Tasmania, earning a berth at next month’s AUS$1.25 million Emirates Australian Open. Last month he retained his New Zealand Men’s Age Group Championship title in Nelson to extend his remarkable run.
“The thing that really helped me get those results was probably self-belief. Before that I had a few good results in some U-19 events and local Wellington events that helped build up that self-belief but the first big one for me was the New Zealand Amateur,” Hillier said.
“I was sort of flying under the radar because no one knew me. I was playing against New Zealand representatives so to get that first national title was really the one that kick-started the last year and a half.”
Hillier, who grew up admiring 2005 US Open winner Michael Campbell, also picks out his Australia Junior victory as another highlight.
“That was my first win overseas and I played some of my best golf there. I was in good form going into the tournament and I had that self-belief. When I have my week I know I can get up there with the top amateurs in Australasia.”
Hillier is next looking ahead to his New Zealand Amateur defence at Royal Wellington which had a major upgrade in 2013 and will be prepared in anticipation of the ninth AAC almost exactly a year later.
“It’s usually the windiest time of year for us so it will be interesting to see how that affects the course. It’s also not that warm so the ball won’t be travelling that far and it can be a bit softer so it will play quite long,” Hillier warned.
“The wind swirls around the course so that trips up a few people. One shot could be straight into it; one shot could be straight down. You just have to make sure you know where the wind’s coming from when you hit your shot.”
Hillier believes all the visitors from around the Asia-Pacific region will enjoy a top-class venue that will be a worthy addition to a star-studded cast of clubs to host the championship.
“It’s definitely a world-class golf course in my eyes. The course was redeveloped pretty recently and they’ve turned it into a course that they can make one of the toughest around the country or they can make it slightly easier. It just depends on how they set up the course,” he said.
“Either way it should be a fun week as Wellington is a great city and there are a lot of things to do.”