Jayhawk Insider: The wait is over
Senior Charlie Hillier was just about three-quarters of the way through his final collegiate season with Kansas men’s golf still in search of his first individual tournament victory. After placing in the top-five four times over the course of his career, and only three regular-season tournaments remaining before postseason play begins, it was beginning to look like it may never happen for Hillier. However, that all changed at the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (March 24-26).
Hillier used three under 70 rounds to not only break his lowest tournament score in his career (13-under), but also give him his first individual collegiate victory.
“Obviously when I won there was a lot of high emotions,” Hillier said. “But also, a sort of relief as it is my last year and I hadn’t won in college yet, and questions do creep in if you are good enough and stuff like that, so definitely relief was big.”
The tournament started off well for Hillier after he was able to finish the first round 5-under, tying a career best. The Te Puke, New Zealand native was able to birdie four holes in a row, and five of six on the front nine to take the top spot in the 75-golfer field.
“My iron play and wedge game were the best they have ever been,” Hillier said. “Also, I had a putter change before this tournament, and it worked pretty well.”
His consistency kept him in front of the rest of the competition. Hillier was able to use another 67 round on the second day to go 10-under and remain one stroke ahead of the second-place individual. The final day of the tournament was when it began to set in that he could finally be able to reach the goal that had alluded him to this point. Thanks to a 2-under performance on the front nine, it was Hillier’s spot to lose heading into the back nine. That is when some nerves began to set in.
“The only real nerves I got was when I bogeyed 11 and 12 on the back nine,” Hillier said. “Hitting my tee shot on 13 and the walk to my ball. The talk I gave myself was what helped me regroup as if I was a freshman or sophomore.”
And that talk was just what Hillier needed. He went on to birdie two of the remaining six holes to finish the day 3-under. The walk back to the clubhouse knowing that he had won was a feeling that he had been waiting for, especially with his sibling rivalry on the line.
“It was pretty surreal. It has been a goal of mine to win in college since I first came,” Hillier said. “Also, my brother had won in college, so it shuts down and bragging rights he has.”
While it does negate some of the bragging rights held, his younger brother and teammate could not have been prouder of his older brother.
“To be completely honest I was speechless, I had no words. I was so happy for him,” KU sophomore Harry Hillier said. “He deserved it more than anyone and I hope that there is a couple more in store for him before he graduates,”
Harry wasn’t the only one to feel overcome with emotion when seeing his brother hoist the trophy at the end. Head coach Jamie Bermel has been with Charlie from the beginning of his Jayhawk career and was looking forward to the day when Charlie would be able to claim the top spot.
“I was very excited for Charlie,” Bermel said. “He came to the U.S. from New Zealand and took a chance on our program, which at the time he committed wasn’t really strong. He believed in us and we believed in him.”
Bermel has always felt a strong connection with his international players, and Charlie was one that he couldn’t have been happier for.
“I feel like sort of a father figure to the international players as they have things, they need help with that local kids don’t,” Bermel said. “Like where to buy a car, summer tournaments, how to buy insurance and how to do their taxes, living arrangements in the summer. Charlie has been a huge part of our success and it was so gratifying to see him break through with the win.”
Moving forward, Charlie hopes to utilize this tournament as a confidence booster to finish out his final season strong.
“Golf is a confidence game and it really gives me a lot of that heading into the major part of the season.,” Charlie said.
Charlie and the Jayhawks have two more regular-season tournaments left before the Big 12 Championship at the end of April. Next up is the two-day Irish Creek Intercollegiate, April 6-7, in Charlotte, North Carolina.