Hill’s NCAA title tops brilliant year

N.C. State's Matt Hill hugs his coach, Richard Sykes, after winning the 2009 NCAA individual title.

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TOLEDO, Ohio — Matt Hill smiled and enjoyed all the attention, the congratulations, and the interviews that go along with being the NCAA champion.

What the North Carolina State sophomore didn’t enjoy Thursday after his third round at the NCAA Championship was the feeling of receiving the trophy.

He’ll have to wait until Friday around noon for that as a 4 1/2-hour weather delay during Wednesday’s second round didn’t allow Thursday’s third round to be completed.

So even though it was a given that the native of Brights Grove, Ontario – the same hometown as former Masters champion Mike Weir – was the individual winner, the NCAA had to wait until the entire third round officially was competed.

In this inaugural year of the new medal/match play format for the NCAA Men’s Championship, the individual championship is determined over 54 holes and not 72 as in the past.

Hill shot three consecutive 2-under-par 69s for a 6-under 207, two strokes better than Clemson junior Kyle Stanley, who closed with a 5-under 66 to equal the low tournament round. Hill and Stanley, who last week became the recipient of the Ben Hogan Award for his play in college and amateur golf over the past year, played as individual qualifiers after their teams failed to finish among the top five in their respective regionals.

Oklahoma State sophomore Rickie Fowler, the 2008 Hogan Award winner, USC senior Tom Glissmeyer, who also closed with a 66, and TCU sophomore Tom Hoge tied for third at 3-under 210.

For Hill, the victory put an exclamation point on one of the greatest seasons in NCAA history. It was his eighth victory and seventh of the spring.

He joins Tiger Woods (Stanford, 1996) as the only player since the inception of NCAA postseason regional play to finish first in his conference (co-medalist, Atlantic Coast), region (Central) and NCAA finals.

“This whole season has just been amazing, especially the last three months,” Hill said following his round. “This is the icing on the cake. I never imagined anything like this when the season started. It’s just been incredible.”

Walking with him at Inverness Club was Wolfpack coach, Richard Sykes.

“I couldn’t be happier for him. The season he’s had, and to finish it off with a national championship is fantastic,” Sykes said. “I know I’ve certainly enjoyed the ride. This week he played great, just like he’s played all year, only I seem to be about the only one who’s noticed it.”

Hill is the first N.C. State golfer to win the NCAA title. Previously the best finishes by Wolfpack players came from Tim Clark, fifth in 1996, 10th in ’97 and seventh in ’98. Justin Walters was sixth in 2002, and Jason Moon 10th in ’03.

“What this (Hill’s win) means for all the guys who have ever played for me at N.C. State is pretty darn special,” Sykes said.

With his home being about a three-hour drive to Toledo, Hill had a solid group of family and friends on hand to watch, including his parents, Bob and Barb, as well as aunts and uncles.

“I’m just ecstatic,” said his father, Bob. “He’s played great golf all spring, and then to finish it off in this grand finale is pretty special. He really toughed it out all week, and right now all of us are just going to enjoy it.”

Hill started the final round at 4 under, tied for first with Alex Ching of San Diego and Russell Henley of Georgia. They were all one shot better than Bronson Burgoon of Texas A&M.

While Hill was holding steady, the other three fell back. Ching and Burgoon closed with 76s and Henley with 75.

Starting on the back side, Hill birdied No. 15 but bogeyed 16. He came back with birdies at Nos. 2 and 3, but made bogey at No. 7. Glissmeyer and Hill’s playing partner, Stanley, held the lead at one point or another.

With Glissmeyer in at 3 under and Stanley standing at 4 under, Hill’s bogey at the seventh left him at 5 under. But he birdied No. 8 to build a two-shot cushion, then closed it out with a two-putt at the ninth from 40 feet, sinking a clinching 3-footer for his par.

Asked later if he would trade his national championship for an NHL Stanley Cup for his home country of Canada, Hill broke into a huge grin and said, “I don’t think so.”

There’s no way he’s giving up that NCAA trophy, especially since he has to wait an extra day to get it.

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