‘Incredible support’ in a week to remember
When Daniel Hillier rattled off five birdies in his first six holes on a sunny Saturday morning, an expectant buzz went around his large gallery at Royal Wellington.
The 19-year-old local lad couldn’t quite add the icing to the round of his life on moving day, but he held it together to be the top New Zealander, tied for sixth at his second Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.
Dual weekend rounds of 68 left Hillier tied with Australian Shae Wools-Cobb, who lit up the course with an opening round 63, on five-under for the tournament, nine shots off winner Yuxin Lin of China who booked his dream ticket to next year’s Masters and Open Championship.
‘‘I was feeding off the crowd and it was a great feeling. I was in the zone and it was unfortunate I couldn’t keep it going for that whole round, but that’s golf,’’ Hillier said of his Saturday charge.
‘‘There’s mixed feelings. I’m happy that I fought hard the whole week and didn’t let my head drop. It would have been nice to be in contention down the final stretch.’’
Hillier had four birdies and a solitary bogey in his final round, but had too much ground to make up after starting the day six behind Lin.
The former Aotea College student who honed his craft down the road at Manor Park is used to playing to empty galleries on home turf and relished the big occasion after shaky start.
‘‘It’s the most fun I’ve had on the golf course even though I didn’t come out on top. The support I had throughout the whole week was incredible with friends and family. I don’t feel like I was far off and overall I’m extremely happy with the week.’’
There’s no rest for the country’s second-ranked amateur who flies to Christchurch today for this week’s New Zealand Amateur, which he won as a 17-year-old.
Unlike his team-mates Nick Voke and Ryan Chisnall who will chase pro careers, Hillier plans to remain in the amateur ranks before a potential shot at qualifying school at the end of next year.
Masterton’s Kerry Mountcastle, the country’s ninth-ranked amateur, ended a memorable week by finishing ninth with a final round of 71. The electrician, who will return to work after this week’s NZ Amateur, began the day four shots off the pace but two early bogeys halted his progress.
New Zealand’s No 1 and No 3, Voke and Chisnall, were tied for 10th, 11 shots behind Lin.
Chisnall rattled home with dual rounds of 67 while Voke’s chances evaporated with 73 on Saturday before he closed with 69. The Iowa State University graduate returns for the second stage of Web.com Tour qualifying school in Texas next month, where a top-20 finish will ensure a pro career in the US.
‘‘What a week. It’s pretty hard to describe. I didn’t quite have the goods out there and didn’t compete how I wanted to,’’ he said.
‘‘But how special is this, to play for New Zealand and put the silver fern on at the pinnacle of the game here. If the stars aligned and I had my head screwed on properly things could have been a little different.’’
❚ Golden ticket B9
A final round of 68 saw Daniel Hillier finish best of the New Zealanders tied for sixth in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Royal Wellington.