An Open test for NCAA champ Hill

IAN HUTCHINSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

Matt Hill gets a quick glimpse into his future today, playing as an amateur in U.S. Open qualifying in Ohio, where he was expecting to arrive on Saturday and take a quick survey of the landscape yesterday.

"I haven't really played in a pro event yet," said the 2009 winner of the NCAA Division 1 individual championship. "I played in a qualifier last year. It wasn't the same site, but it was Canadian Tour and Nationwide guys and I ended up playing pretty well there.

"I've competed against a lot of college players that have gone on to do pretty well in pro golf and I feel like I'm ready to compete against that level, but I still feel like I can get better."

"I'm looking forward to (turning pro) in the future, but I still feel I can get better at North Carolina State the next couple of years," he added.

Of course, a trip to Bethpage Black this month would be an incredible experience should he be successful at the qualifier. But as it stands, Hill has three pro events in which to participate, including next month's RBC Canadian Open and a Nationwide Tour event in Columbus, Ohio, the week after that.

His flirtation with pro events this year seems like just the right amount to Hill, who also has a busy summer schedule with high level amateur events before returning to school in the fall. Slowly wading into pro golf instead of a quick plunge is the right choice, he says.

"I think it's a really good way to do it, just to see where you stand," said Hill, who fully understands that despite his success this year, the transition to professional golf may include stops on mini-tours, the Canadian Tour or the Nationwide Tour before hitting the big show on the PGA Tour.

"Henry Brunton pointed out you try to get as good as you can so that, even on not your best tournament, you can still make it through to the final stage of Q-School and, hopefully, the tour," said Hill, who won't be trying that for a couple of years.

In the meantime, he'll be working with the Royal Canadian Golf Association national team program, where Brunton is the coach. "They've been pretty huge in my development over the past four years," Hill said.

"They've given me a great opportunity to compete in some really good events, especially playing in the world junior a couple of times and on an international level against some of the best players.

"Some of the coaching, they've not only had us concentrate on things on the golf course, but also (working) with a nutrition coach and trainer, Greg Wells, who has helped us focus on becoming really good athletes, not just golfers," Hill said.

The national team experience has incorporated mind and body as Hill also has worked with sports psychologist Dana Sinclair.

"The last couple of years, I've worked with her on just how to control my tension. That area has helped me a lot coming down the stretch, just where I need to focus my thoughts when I'm trying to shoot a good score," Hill said.

The national team program is designed to prepare the player, but Hill realizes that once he makes that step to pro golf, he's responsible for himself and whether he goes all the way to the PGA Tour depends on the individual.

"I think, maybe, one of the biggest things is that I'll be on my own," he said.

But Hill also realizes that a jump to the PGA Tour is usually not a direct trip.

"It's a long process," said Hill, pointing out that he is being patient and enjoying the national team and college experience, which may actually help him today.

"We go to tournaments to play a college event and we usually have only one practice round and it will be a little bit tougher to get to know the course," Hill said. "I just feel like the college experience has probably helped me get to know what the most important things are that I need to do in a practice round and get prepared for the course."

Just like in college, the more you get out of the learning experience, the more you get out of your future pro career.


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