In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Daniel Hillier reflects on chasing a European Tour card, having his girlfriend as his caddie, and winning his first title on the Challenge Tour.
It feels pretty amazing to have a chance to get my European Tour card. I think everyone that comes out here has the goal of getting onto the European Tour, and getting into that top 20 on the rankings was certainly a goal of mine. I only came over here from New Zealand with seven invites to work with at the beginning of the year and knowing I’d be away from home for a long time, so I’ve been sort of ticking off boxes as I go.
It’s definitely been the most mentally taxing year I’ve had. After the Grand Final next week I will have played 29 events this year, and that in itself is something that I've not even come close to doing before. This, paired with the fact that the majority of the events I played on the Challenge Tour this year were invites, many of which I only found out about on the Sunday night, means there was a lot of uncertainty and last minute travel plans being made. I haven’t had the luxury of going home at all this season due to our quarantine situation either, so even on my weeks off I was in unfamiliar territory and I didn’t really feel like I was able to settle down or reset as effectively as I would like. It’s all been a massive learning curve, and I’m grateful that I have an awesome team behind me to help. I’m not sure I’d have the same stories to share today if it wasn’t for them.
I’m glad it’s worked out the way it has. I felt fortunate enough to have the opportunity to obtain some invites this year through the help of my management company and the generosity of the Challenge Tour, and after 2020 being the crazy year that it was, I thought I’d be a fool not to take the chance and see if I could make something out of these invites. I had played two Challenge Tour events in 2019 and managed top 10s in both. I really enjoyed the courses I played, so I knew that I could compete, it was just a matter of getting everything to click at the right time.
And each top 10 I had at the start of the season was massive because it meant I didn’t have to use an invite the following week. I think I used six invites before earning enough points to get unlimited invites for the remainder of the season. The goal from there was to play myself into the Grand Final, and now I’m hoping to tick that last box of earning my European Tour card, which is pretty exciting.
Obviously it’s a big week, but I’ve taken a few days to reset after winning last week and I’m slowly getting back into the groove. I’m just really excited to get out there because no matter what happens next week, I consider this season to be a success.
My win last week in Spain has definitely taken a couple of days to sink in. I was knackered after that final round and still slept terribly that night, so the adrenaline must have still been pumping. I’m yet to get through all the messages but I’m hoping everyone knows how grateful I am for their support, especially those that have always been there for me through the good weeks and the bad.
When I think back to the start of the week, I was definitely a bit flat and slightly frustrated, but golf is a game that really gives you those highs and lows. I had just missed the cut by one a couple of days earlier at the same venue, and I was two over through 17 holes in my first round. I was thinking about home a lot for all the wrong reasons and I felt like I didn’t have much left in the tank after a long season.
I had to finish my first round the next morning due to darkness, and thankfully 18 was playing relatively easy that day. I probably played my best hole since I can remember, and made eagle to get back on the cut line at the time. That definitely lifted my spirits a little bit, and I was able to get straight back out there for round two and continue to play some really good golf in some pretty brutal conditions. I remember thinking to myself after the first round that I wasn’t far off spending two weeks in hotel quarantine back in New Zealand, and how I really didn’t want to have to spend another two weeks after this event twiddling my thumbs waiting for my flight home, so I think that also gave me some sort of a second wind.
Being able to win with Siobhan by my side was really special, and we’ve made a pretty good team since she decided to come over when I qualified for The Open. It was a massive decision for her due to the uncertainty of her being able to get back home when she would like. We managed to get her an MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) spot back in New Zealand for August 22nd, which meant she would have been over here for just over a month. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a flight to match her arrival date into New Zealand, so we had to let the spot go. Sure enough, after that dilemma, we weren’t able to get her another spot, no matter how many hours were spent refreshing the MIQ website waiting for someone to cancel their reservation so we could snap it up. About a month went by, she was caddying for me and we’d had some good results (all due to her caddying prowess of course) so I asked her if she could stay for the remainder of the season and just forget about the stress of trying to get home. She obliged and we spent the next month and a half after that travelling from tournament to tournament, not knowing when we would be able to come home.
I think the reason it’s all worked so well is because she doesn’t know much about golf so doesn’t say anything to influence my decision making! If I have a bad round, I can’t blame her for giving me bad yardages. She is always 100% behind me though so it makes it easier to keep my head in it after a tough day knowing she’s proud of what I’m doing regardless of what happens.
I think having that support from my team, Siobhan, and my family and friends has been crucial this year. I feel lucky to have a bunch of people that I’ve been able to chat to at different times depending on how I’m feeling and what situations I’m in. I know all of these people around me genuinely have my best interests at heart, so it reminds me that, whether I finish this year with a European Tour card or nothing at all, all these people are still going to be there supporting me. We all believe that as long as I keep my head in the right place it will all click for me at some stage- it’s just a matter of when.
Whether I get my card or not, I’m just delighted that we are lucky to be heading home November 9th, with our 14 day quarantine starting November 11th. As Ryan Fox spoke about in his blog last week, dealing with the MIQ system in New Zealand has definitely not been easy, and it’s something that’s played on my mind this year. The system was recently changed from “first come, first served” that I mentioned before to a “lottery” system, where a certain number of rooms are released at a specific time, and anyone wanting to get into New Zealand can jump onto the website and get into a randomised queue. Even with this improved system we had it in the back of our minds that we might not get home for Christmas, especially after the first 3000 rooms were released a month and a half ago and I was 17,000 in the queue and Siobhan was about 21,000. The real kick, though, was finding out that there were around 40,000 kiwis in the queue that time round. We were a fair way back in the queue again the second time around, but with everyone trying to get home just before Christmas, the middle of November was still available by the time we were able to select our date of arrival. So, when next week is over, no matter what happens, we can’t wait to catch up on the last six months with all our friends and family.