Jayhawk Insider: Harry Hillier begins spring on the right foot
Kansas men’s golf competed in their first spring tournament this past weekend (Feb. 22-24) while in Palm Desert, Calif., and the Jayhawks did more than just take advantage of the warmer weather.
In the team’s first competition since early November, Kansas was able to fight its way to a top-three finish at the Desert Intercollegiate, and that was thanks in large part to the performance of sophomore Harry Hillier. Hillier took home the individual runner-up honors after shooting a combined 209 (-7) over the three-day event. This is Hillier’s second highest finish of the season and the third time he has been the Jayhawk’s top finisher.
It took Hillier a little longer to get going than he had hoped as he finished round one with a score of 77 (+5), which tied him for 64th in the field of 120 and the second lowest on the team.
“Day one was my first day of competition golf since Christmas so I kind of got off to a sluggish start,” Hillier said. “Then the wind started to blow, and I wasn’t hitting it great, so I really just struggled in general.”
“Harry got off to a slow start and got a little impatient the first day,” KU head coach Jamie Bermel said. “I think he let a 73-74 round get to 77.”
After not having had any real game action in almost two months, it took Hillier a little longer to get into the right frame of mind than he would have liked. However, once he reached that mindset, he kicked his performance into high gear.
“My mindset going into the second and third day was a lot different,” Hillier said. “I just let it go and had some fun, which I should do every time, and it just clicked, and I ended up with two good finishing rounds.”
Good is an understatement. Over his final two rounds, Hillier shot a combined 132 which was 12-under par and was the lowest final two round score in the field. This included a career-best round of 64 (-8) on the second day of the tournament, during which he had eight birdies and an eagle over the 18 holes.
“In his second round, he made a long birdie putt on hole two and that got him going,” Bermel said. “He is one of those players once he sees the ball go in the hole, especially a long putt, that gets him going.”
While it turned out to be Hillier’s best round since joining Kansas, Hillier was more focused on keeping his foot on the gas than it being a career day.
“I had been on a little pattern of getting off to hot starts and slowly fading away but this time I kept the burners on, so I don’t know about a career day, but it felt pretty cool to help the team like that,” Hillier said.
Hillier’s second-day performance also helped to light a spark for the rest of his teammates entering the third and final round of action. Kansas entered Sunday (Feb. 24) tied for fourth place and were 13 strokes behind third-place TCU. However, after seeing how well Hillier performed on the second day, the team was up to the task of making a push for the top three spot.
“I think the guys fed off Harry’s second round and were thinking ‘maybe this course isn’t as hard as I’m thinking it is because Harry just shot 8-under yesterday,'” Bermel said.
On day three, the team was able to put together the best team round of the entire Desert Intercollegiate, finishing the day with a 278 (-10) score, pushing them to a one-stroke lead over TCU for third place. This included the entire team finishing under par for the day, and everyone besides Hillier putting up their best round of the entire tournament.
Moving forward the team hopes to be able to take what they learned over that third round and continue to improve as they move on into the spring season. As for Hillier, he is looking to find a way to start his tournaments as well as he finishes them.
“As a team, we just have to keep working and use every opportunity we can,” Hillier said. “For me, I just got to try and get off to a better start on the first day and I’ll be in good shape for the rest of the season.”
Next up for the Jayhawks is the Desert Mountain Intercollegiate, where Kansas enters as the defending champions from last season. Kansas will look to defend that title March 9 and 10 in Scottsdale, Arizona.