Charlie Hillier traveled halfway across the world expecting to participate in just another golf tournament. Traveling from his native Te Puke, New Zealand, to San Diego, California, to compete in the Junior World Golf Tournament, Hiller didn’t realize just how life-changing that tournament would be.
On the morning of July 15, 2014, the 18-year-old Hillier teed off for the first time in the tournament, which was hosted by the University of Oregon. Hillier started strong, shooting one-under in his first three rounds combined, but a drop-off in round four pushed his final score to four-over, ultimately causing him to fall into tenth place.
After his performance, Hillier was approached by a man who would go on to change his life. The man, who turned out to be Kansas golf coach Jamie Bermel, asked Hillier one all-important question: “Have you ever thought about coming to Kansas?”
Perhaps forgivable, due to the fact that Hillier lived on the other side of the world, the first thing to come out of his mouth was, “Where is Kansas?”
After learning about the University of Kansas, Hillier decided to take a visit to America’s heartland. Once the 18-year-old was able to pinpoint Kansas on a map, Hillier became close with Bremel.
“He did a really good job of making us feel at home,” Hillier said, now a junior at Kansas. “It was the closest thing to home.”
Hillier would soon make it official that he would become a Jayhawk, signing on with Bremel’s team and beginning the preparations to make Kansas his home away from home.
A year on, Hillier’s freshman year was finally upon him. Making his switch from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere, a 7,722-mile trip, Hillier prepared for the life-changing transition. But, according to Hillier, the transition wasn’t difficult at all.
“Coach Bremel got me here and put me in a couple good classes with other athletes,” Hillier said. “I put a lot of the easiness of the transition on the coaches at the time.”
Finally getting on the green
Charlie competed in every tournament for Kansas his first year at Kansas, which is typically uncommon for a freshman. Hillier finished his freshman season tied for the most top-10 finishes among all Jayhawks.
Hillier made even more improvement his sophomore season, finishing first among all Jayhawks twice, including the Desert Intercollegiate, and was tied for second overall in one competition. Hillier would go on to finish in a tie for 25th place at the Big 12 Championships.
Heading into his junior season, following another season in which he competed in all 13 of Kansas' competitions, Hillier’s younger brother, Harry, was wrapping up his high school golf career. Harry, quite similar to Charlie, was competing in San Diego when Bremel approached Harry and asked him the exact same question he asked Charlie two years prior.
“Have you ever thought about coming to Kansas?”
Unlike Charlie in 2014, Harry knew exactly where Lawrence was, thanks to his elder brother. Harry would go on to follow in his brother’s footsteps and sign with the University of Kansas without hesitation.
For Harry, he did not go to Kansas simply because his brother was there, but Charlie did have a big impact on Harry’s decision.
“It was pretty close to home,” Harry said. “What we do on a day-to-day basis was very similar to home.”
Although Harry did not need Bremel as much as Charlie did, Harry had Charlie to look up to and go to if he ever needed anything. Yet despite that, the transition to America seemed to be more difficult for Harry than it was for Charlie.
“I kind of struggled with the transition,” Harry said. “In the summer, I didn’t even want to be here. Just thinking about it, being so far from home at such a young age, I found it really difficult.”
Nearly 8,000 miles away from home at just the age of 18, the transition to a new culture would be difficult for anyone. The only thing that made things easier for Harry was having his brother by his side.
“It wasn’t quite what I expected, but now this is a place I call home,” Harry said.
When Charlie discovered Harry was coming to Kansas, he was excited, not only because his younger brother was coming to play with him, but Harry was the perfect fit for the team.
“Coach Bremel has always taught us, it’s what is on your chest, your playing for Kansas,” Charlie said. “So as soon as Harry committed to come here, I knew he would be a really good fit to our team.”
Harry did not start his freshman year the way Charlie did — in fact, Harry didn’t compete in a single event during the fall. While Charlie continued to grow and be a leader on the team, his younger brother Harry seemed to struggle.
But as the spring semester came around, Harry was given an opportunity to play at the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate. The freshman went on to finish tied for 11th, shooting 3-under in his final round to bolster his final ranking. In addition, Kansas went on to win the entire tournament by 21 strokes.
In his first college event, Harry exceeded expectations and looked to shake off the uneasiness of his transition to the U.S.
The team celebrated, but their celebration was different than what most would expect.
“Walking off the second green, I was waiting for my teammate [Daniel] Hudson and he goes, ‘How’d we do?’” Harry said.
Telling Hudson that the team had won by a huge 21 strokes, all that came out of Hudson’s mouth was “Oh yeah, cool.”
For a team that had just won their first competition in nearly two years, Kansas did not celebrate with confetti, but rather by shaking hands with each other and looking toward their next tournament. The mindset of the Kansas golf team is just this: continue looking forward and figuring out ways to better themselves.
“In terms of going forward, we approach each tournament one by one,” Charlie said. “We haven’t got any number one player in the country, but we are really good players. Depth has been big this year because it keeps competitiveness between us.”
This competitiveness among the Jayhawks is what will continue to drive not only the team forward, but the pair of brothers too.
While the pair do not know what their future holds, for now, they want to be good teammates. Harry has not given much thought to Charlie’s graduation in 2019, but he knows the team will be different once he is gone. As for now, Harry and Charlie hope to continue improving and maybe even make nationals as a team.
The two brothers aren't any different than your typical brothers: at a young age they simply tolerated one another, but as time has gone on, their relationship has become closer than ever. Both golfers have an opportunity to become professional golfers, but for now, they hope to make their “American father figure," Jamie Bremel, proud.