Hill keeps rolling at Inverness
TOLEDO, Ohio – North Carolina State coach Richard Sykes might be a little prejudice when talking about his outstanding sophomore Matt Hill.
“If he’s not the college player of the year, they shouldn’t have one,” Sykes said. “If you look strictly at college play this season, there’s no doubt he’s the best.”
While I may not go to that extreme, I agree with the veteran Wolfpack coach.
Hill has had an incredible season, especially this spring. The native of Brights Grove, Ontario, Canada (the hometown of former Masters champion Mike Weir), Hill has finished won seven times, including a T-1 at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship and a victory at the NCAA Central Regional, which enabled him to advance to this week’s NCAA Championship as an individual.
His seven titles (one in the fall and six this spring) shattered the ACC record of five individual titles in a season. In his 12 starts, Hill has posted 10 top-10 showings and has not finished out of the top 14 overall. In his 32 rounds, he has been under par 24 times and even par three times.
“As a college player, he’s the best N.C. State has ever had,” said Sykes, who has been at the Wolfpack helm for close to 40 years. “What he’s done this season has simply been outrageous.”
Yet, for whatever reason, Hill still seems to fall under the radar of most people, in particular those in the U.S.
Maybe it’s because he only played in three U.S. amateur tournaments last summer, and didn’t playing well in the Sunnehanna and Porter Cup. Still, he did qualify for math play at the U.S Amateur and upset Jamie Lovemark in the first round before losing to Stanford’s Shiwan Kim in the second round.
Maybe it’s because he goes about his business in a quiet, humble manner. He’s not a media quote machine, like current collegians Billy Horschel, Rickie Fowler, Brian Harman or Matthew Giles.
“I don’t really care that much about recognition,” said Hill as he waited out a 4 1/2 hour weather delay Wednesday at Inverness. “I never really got a lot of recognition even as a junior, especially in America, and it doesn’t bother me. I just want to keep getting better and I guess the recognition will come with any success I have.”
With the season he’s had, it’s time to start pouring it on – in buckets. This 20-year-old is bursting at the seams with talent which can no longer be overlooked.
There no doubt it’s not overlooked by his peers.
“I played a couple of times with Matt last summer and knew he could play,” said Horschel, a member of the 2007 winning U.S. Walker Cup team and Florida senior. “But he has really come into his own this season. He’s one heck of a player, that for sure. What he’s done this season has been incredible.”
Heading into the season, Hill said his two goals were to make first-team All-America and better his previous season’s stroke average of 71.4.
Both now appear to be givens. Going into the NCAA finals his stroke average was 70.2, and if he doesn’t make first-team All-America, well, they should abolish the whole thing.
“I feel I’ve accomplish a lot more than I thought I would,” said Hill, whose older brother Graham finished his collegiate golfing career at Eastern Michigan last season and was a quarterfinalist at the 2008 U.S. Amateur.
There are no swing or equipment changes that can be cited for Hill’s success over the last nine months.
“He’s very mature and his course management has improved greatly,” Sykes said. “I think it’s more of what he doesn’t do. Mainly, he plays within his ability. He doesn’t lay shots he doesn’t have. He knows what he’s capable of doing.”
“I think it’s a case of playing smarter and not making many mistakes,” he said. “I’m not trying to hit miraculous shots, just trying to give myself opportunities. I’m also a lot more confident in my game and my putting has really improved.”
Still, don’t expect to see a lot of Hill on the American amateur circuit this summer. In fact, he will play less than he did last year.
He said he plans to play in the British Amateur and Canadian Amateur, both of which he is exempt from qualifying. He also plans to try qualifying for the U.S. Amateur.
Other than that, “I’m just going to take some time off because I think that’s important,” Hill said. “I’ll definitely be practicing, but I live on Lake Heron and plan to do some fishing. Mostly, I’ll just relax.”
One thing is for sure, when he returns to Raleigh, N.C., next fall to begin is junior season, he won’t be flying under anyone’s radar. He should have first-team All-America credentials and I would not be surprised if player of the year is at the top of the list.
If Matt Hill still isn’t on your radar screen, then it’s time to trade in your old machine.