Taconic's Hillman takes first step to US Open
Like most of us, Taconic Golf Club head professional and Williams men’s golf coach Josh Hillman has a priority list. In order of importance, it’s family, job and then golf game.
So, when his tournament season started three weeks ago -- at the same time a new club season was dawning, his team’s was ending and the weather was uncooperative -- it’s no surprise his game was rusty.
"I went out and shot a smooth little 85 at the Saratoga Golf and Polo Club," he said sarcastically of his first tournament round.
That called for a visit to Wyantenuck Country Club head professional Tom Sullivan, Mr. Fix It for Hillman and many others.
"I spent three hours with Tom and we got some things ironed out," Hillman said
That’s an understatement. On Wednesday, Hillman fired a 2-under-par 70 at the Schuyler Meadows Golf Club in Loudonville, N.Y., to finish second in a U.S. Open local qualifier and earn a spot in sectional qualifying in Purchase, N.Y., on June 2.
"He’s been a pretty busy guy with his team and the club, and like with anyone, trying to fix yourself is tough," Sullivan said. "You just go back to the basics -- grip, posture and alignment. We all fall into the same traps. But with Josh, it comes back quickly."
"We speak the same language and know how to simply things for each another," Hillman said. "He helped me get my head cleared out."
"You want to get to where it’s more about where you are going than how to do it," Sullivan said.
After the tutorial, Hillman went to work on his swing in the evenings at Taconic. The results were obvious Wednesday. On a windy day, the 36-year-old Hillman put together a steady round that included three birdies and a single bogey on a course that played at about 6,800 yards. The 36-year-old almost felt like he was playing at Taconic.
"The ironic thing is that [golf course architect] Gil Hanse has done some renovations to the course, just like he did at Taconic in 2009," Hillman said. "It had familiar look and I think that put me at ease and made me comfortable."
Comfortable enough to miss only two greens in regulation -- he got up-and-down for a par on one of those holes and made his only bogey on the other.
Standing at even par with three holes to play, Hillman knew he was at least in the hunt for one of the three spots up for grabs.
"I’ve played in enough qualifiers to have a sense of what kind of score it is going to take," he said. "I figured even or 1 under would be close."
He made a birdie on No. 16 and believed at that point that a couple of pars might do it. Then, a pleasant surprise.
"I made a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 17," said Hillman. "On the 18th, I had 105 yards into a green that is surrounded by rough and hills. I aimed at the pin and got it to within 10 feet. I thought I might finish birdie, birdie, birdie."
That wasn’t to be, but a tap-in par meant Hillman had achieved his goal of advancing. As it turned out, three players tied for the final spot at 71, forcing a playoff that he was more than happy to avoid.
Hillman, the head professional at Berkshire Hills Country Club before taking over at Taconic, had one connection to his old club as he earned his sectional spot.
"[Berkshire Hills member] Mark Gilligan was with me and he’ll be with me at Purchase," Hillman said. "He’s a good caddie." Gilligan has carried for many good players, including 2009 Massachusetts Golf Association Senior Player of the Year Bob Linn.
This is the fourth time Hillman has made it past the local stage -- 2002-03 and 2006 -- and the closest he has come to advancing is one shot. He has played the courses at Purchase that will be used -- Century and Old Oaks -- in past sectionals.
Count Sullivan as one who believes Hillman will make a good showing as he tries to secure a spot in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
"He’s got his feel back, which is great to see," Sullivan said. "Josh has the length [off the tee] and he’s a good putter. I think he’ll do well."
As he prepares in the evenings, he’ll be able to do so with priority No. 1 -- family -- at his side. His 41Ž2-year-old son, Jacob, comes to the course and plays a few holes beside his dad and mom (Angie) several times a week.
"He loves it," said Hillman, who added that Jacob is already skating and learning to play hockey.
Still, as dad prepares for the the sectional, the order of his priorities are unchanged.
"It’s about time management," Hillman said. "First, I have to make sure everything at home and at work are in order."
However, at least on June 2, he will be excused if golf and earning a trip to America’s Open becomes priority No. 1 for a day.
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