PEELER: Golfer Hill in Good Company
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. Sophomore Matt Hill leaves for home this week, taking a short Canadian vacation before heading to the two biggest tournaments of the season.
After the spring he has had for the NC State men’s golf team, Hill deserves a little rest and relaxation following his last exam of the spring semester on Wednesday. And, since he hasn’t been to Bright’s Cove, Ontario, since Christmas, a trip home should be just trick to keep he edge sharp as he heads to the NCAA Regional and, if all goes well, the NCAA Championships.
Hill, ranked No. 5 nationally in the latest Golfweek rankings of men’s college golfers, shattered the school record for victories in a career and in a single-season this spring, winning four of his last five tournaments, including co-medalist honors with Clemson’s David May.
He now has six victories in 21 career starts, a remarkable record for a sport with thousands of competitors at hundreds of Division I schools. That tops the previous record held by PGA Tour star Tim Clark, who won five tournaments in his three years at NC State. Hill's five wins this school year, going back to his win at the Hawks Invitational in Boston last September.
He continued his run of success with back-to-back victories in March, followed by consecutive wins at the NC State Invitational in Wallace and the ACC Championships in New London.
His five victories this school year breaks the record owned by former Wolfpack player and current Pinehurst Resort instructor Kelly Mitchum, who won three tournaments in 1990-91.
“It’s a little hard to put into words right now,” said Hill. “It’s just been an awesome semester of golf.”
To say the least. Only three other golfers in ACC history, including former NCAA Champion and Wake Forest All-American Curtis Strange, have ever won five tournaments in a single academic year.
“Just look at the names he is now associated with,” said long-time NC State golf coach Richard Sykes. “If that doesn’t tell you how well he is playing right now, nothing will.”
As a team, the Wolfpack is ranked No. 25 nationally by Golfweek. Sykes and his squad will find out on May 4 at 6 p.m. where they will be heading for the NCAA regional. The top teams at each regional will advance to the NCAA Championships at The Inverness Club near Toledo, Ohio, on May 26-30.
If he keeps playing at his pace, he has the potential to become the Wolfpack’s third individual NCAA Champion of the spring, joining wrestler Darrion Caldwell and platform diver Kristin Davies.
“I have thought about that a little bit,” Hill said. “I would definitely love to have the opportunity to win a national championship some day. That would be amazing to me. I am just going to try to work on the same things I have been working on. Not over do it, just keep improving every aspect of my game.”
That’s what he will be doing back home, as he works with his long-time swing coach, Ralph Bauer, a noted Canadian golf instructor. It was Bauer who tweaked the mechanics of Hill’s swing last summer that gave him the confidence he needed to be successful when he returned to Raleigh last September.
“I made a small change as soon as I got home from last year’s regionals,” Hill said. “I was bringing the club too far inside. Once I got it back in path and my shoulders squared, it made a huge difference.
“I feel like it has helped me to be a lot more consistent and be able to hit more shots.”
With his confidence at an all-time high, Hill is looking forward to see how he compares not only to the best college golfers but also the best professional golfers. All first-team All-Americans get an automatic invitation into Nationwide Tour event. He is also hoping to get a sponsor’s exemption into a PGA Tour event this summer and the lone amateur exemption into the Canadian Open.
But he also plans to be back at NC State in the fall, to continue his pursuit of a college degree, a promise he made to his parents when he came to the United States to play college golf. His older brother, Graham, also played college golf at Eastern Michigan, where he was the 2007 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year.
Matt Hill, a life-long hockey fan and player, could have gone to one of several upper Midwest and West Coast schools, but chose NC State instead because it was the warmest city that had an NHL franchise, a place where he could play golf year round, where a drizzly day in the lower 40s is considered the dead of winter, not late spring. He’s now a huge Carolina Hurricanes fan, though his playing schedule and school work has limited him to only a handful of games at the RBC Center this season.
Hockey helped Hill become a powerful player, with a lean but solid 6-foot, 3-inch golfer, similar to the new wave of athletic players who have arrived since Tiger Woods became the biggest name in professional golf. He uses his height to create more torque on his drives and with his irons.
“Golf has become much more of an athlete’s game now and all the tour guys are really great athletes,” Hill said. “They work out at the gym, they have pretty good physiques and they seem pretty strong. That’s the big reason the tour driving distance has gone way up over the last 15 years. The newer equipment helps, but it is also the improved athletic ability of younger golfers.”
Following his successful freshman season, Hill was confident coming into this season, though he knew he needed some work on his short game around and on the greens. He has spent five to six hours per week working on those deficiencies at NC State’s state-of-the-art Short Game Practice Facility, located off Hillsborough Street. It’s a small complex that features three well-groomed and undulating practice greens, multiple bunkers and everything a golfer could need to practice shots from 100 yards or closer.
“He’s chipped in three shots in the last month,” Sykes said. “So something is obviously working with his short game.”
Sykes describes Hill’s game as improving, but not perfect. The best thing about Hill as a golfer, Sykes said, that he knows his limits and weaknesses. That’s a rare quality for other players his age.
“He is still working on what he doesn’t know,” Sykes said. “He has to get better in all facets of the game. But, in most cases, he does not allow himself to beat himself. The best way to describe him is that he doesn’t try to make the shots that he’s not good at.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.