One of the main reasons NC State sophomore Matt Hill has been so successful this season is his calm, even-keeled demeanor the golf course.
Well, even Hill got a little excited Thursday afternoon when his birdie putt on his 53th hole of the 112th-annual NCAA Men’s Golf Championship fell in the cup, all but guaranteeing him NC State’s third individual national championship this spring.
“I am pretty excited about this win, maybe a little bit more than I have been in the past,” said Hill, who has won five consecutive collegiate tournaments and eight of the last nine tournaments he has entered. “I usually don’t show a whole lot of emotion, but I am definitely going to celebrate this one.
“Winning a national championship is pretty hard to describe.”
Because of a rain delay during Wednesday’s second round, the final round was not completed until Friday morning. A total of 30 players in the 156-player field finished their final round Friday, but none had a mathematical chance of catching the native of Bright’s Grove, Ontario. The awards presentation to make Hill the 29th individual national champion in NC State history is scheduled for noon Friday at The Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
As excited as Hill is about winning the event, especially since so many of his friends and family were on the course, he won’t be able to share Friday’s glory with long-time Wolfpack golf coach Richard Sykes, whose flight home from Toledo leaves Friday morning.
“I’d like to be there, of course, but you have plane flights that go at certain times,” Sykes said. “Matt drove from his home, which is about two and a half hours from here, so he can come and go as he pleases. I have to go when the plane goes.
“It’s not the end of the world. I watched it all. I watched him play so well all year long. I feel sure someone will get me a nice picture. I can enjoy that.”
This week certainly has been one of the most thrilling events in Sykes four decades as the NC State men’s golf coach. He walked with Hill every step of the way, encouraging and advising him through all three rounds.
“He played the way he has played all year long,” Sykes said. “Very consistent. He did not try shots he could not make. He did not get himself into trouble. When he had to make big shots, he made them.
“The only word I can think of to describe it all is ‘magical.’”
Hill shot 69 in all three rounds, the only golfer in the field to shoot sub-70 rounds each day of the event. He was 6-under for the week on the front nine, which Sykes considers the hardest half of the storied Inverness Club, which has hosted two PGA Championships, four U.S. Opens and one U.S. Amateur.
“Matt has played the same way all year long,” Sykes said. “He got his confidence early this year and he has never lost it.” Hill is the seventh ACC golfer to win the NCAA Championship and the sixth player from a North Carolina school to win the title. Wake Forest’s Curtis Strange, Jay Haas and Gary Hallberg won individual titles in the 1970s, while North Carolina’s Harvie Ward (1949) and John Inman (1984) also won individual crowns. Hill is also the first Canadian golfer to win the NCAA title since James Lepp of University of Washington took home top honors in 2005.
Aside from Hill winning NC State’s first individual national championship, he becomes only the fourth golfer in Pack history to finish in the top-10 at the NCAA Championship. Tim Clark finished fifth in 1996 and 10th in 1997, Justin Walters was sixth in 2002, and Jason Moon placed 10th in 2003.
According to Golfweek Magazine, Hill is the first player in NCAA history to win his conference tournament, an NCAA regional and the NCAA Championship tournament en route to the national title.
Hill is the third Wolfpack student-athlete to win an individual title this spring. Wrestler Darrion Caldwell and platform diver Kristin Davies won titles in their respective events in March. It’s the first time since 1993 that NC State has won three individual titles in the same academic year and just the third time in school history that more than two athletes have won individual titles.
Hill was unfazed by a more than four-hour rain delay Wednesday that forced most of the field to complete their second rounds early Thursday morning and pushed the final finishers to Friday. In fact, he credits that delay for clearing his head.
“The rain delay actually helped me a little bit,” Hill said. “I kind of struggled on my first nine Wednesday. I didn’t hit it great. Then I bogeyed the first hole on my back nine to go 1 over my first 10. I was a little frustrated at that time. The rain delay lasted a little over four hours and I totally regrouped.
“It pretty much started a new round for me.”
While Hill played consistently throughout the tournament, he was spectacular on one specific hole, the 569-yard, par-5 eighth hole. By starting on the 10th hole in his final two rounds, Hill played No. 8 as his next-to-last hole both days. Wednesday, he bombed a 345-yard drive that cleared a leftside bunker and rolled down the hill. He stuck a 4-iron from 215 yards to within four feet of the hole and easily rolled in the eagle putt.
“That was maybe the best 4-iron I have ever hit in my life, because it was actually on a side-hill lie,” Hill said. “I absolutely pured it to four feet. I guess it was one of the better shots I have ever hit, considering the situation. That eagle really helped my score out.”
It also gave him the confidence he needed to bring home the title.
“I knew if I just kept myself in position the whole time, and played smart, I would be okay,” Hill said. “I felt pretty confident coming down the stretch.”
“Being the NCAA Champion means a lot,” Hill said. “This whole season has been amazing and to win this is just the icing on the cake. I’m feeling a combination of joy and relief right now. I am pretty pumped to be honest. This is a pretty grueling golf course, especially the front side which I’ve had to finish on the last two days.”
Now, the red-hot Hill will begin preparations for a summer schedule in which he will play against both the best professional and amateur players in the world. On June 8, he will play in a U.S. Open Sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, in hopes of earning his way into the U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park (Black Course) in Farmingdale, N.Y., June 18-21.
He received an automatic berth into both the Canadian and U.S. Amateur fields in August, as well exemptions into at least one Nationwide Tour event this summer.
“The momentum keeps building,” Hill said. “I have gotten some breaks along the way and for some reason things keep going my way. I feel like every part of my game is there.
“I am going to go see what I can do now.”