Sport

Matthew Millar sets sights on WGC and European return

It was the "Year of the Rug", so much so Canberra golfer Matthew Millar would be "crazy" not to consider playing on the European or Japan tours.

But within days of finishing tied second at the NSW PGA Championship, the final event of the year, Millar was back at Gold Creek Country Club selling tees and giving lessons - making up for the six weeks he had been off playing golf.

Opportunity knocks: Canberra golfer Matt Millar put his golf career on hold for his family, but could return to being a ...
Opportunity knocks: Canberra golfer Matt Millar put his golf career on hold for his family, but could return to being a full-time golfer. Photo: Jay Cronan

Millar pulled the plug on being a full-time professional golfer in 2009, after five years on the European Tour, to take up the teaching pro position at Gold Creek Country Club.

The 39-year-old had to go to qualifying school to earn a card for the 2015 PGA Tour of Australasia, but he enjoyed a breakout year.

Not only did he win his first tournament - the New Zealand PGA Championship - but he was named player of the tour, finished third on the order of merit and had 11 top-10 finishes, including at the Australian PGA Championship and the Australian Masters.

With various of the world's biggest tournaments yet to decide on the qualification criteria for 2016, Millar was unsure what his order of merit finish would mean.

There was a chance he could play at the World Golf Championships' HSBC Champions in China, worth $11.8 million, but he would not know until mid-2016.

He is also eligible for the late stages of qualifying school for the European or Japan tours in late 2016 - and if his form continued into the new year then he would have to go to one of them.

"They said it's nothing definite, but they seem to think that there could be a chance [of playing in the HSBC Champions], so I'll be certainly crossing my fingers," Millar said.

"Hopefully I do get the nod for that one, that'd be good, it's an awesome field ... they're the ones you really want to play in.

 "The good news about finishing third on the order of merit is that I can get through to the final stage of any qualifying school.

"If I'm playing well again [this] year you'd be crazy not to look at either Europe or Japan.

"If [this] season is as good as [last] season, you'd be mad not to go."

Millar's wife Bec said her husband was "hedging his bets" when he took up the Gold Creek role, with one eye on "life after golf". 

While that mix between working at home and touring on the Australasian PGA allowed him to spend more time at home, Bec felt it also gave Millar a "hunger" and "desire" that has helped his game.

She has enjoyed having him around the house more, especially at "cactus hour", but if he was to return to a major tour then he would go with her blessing.

They have been together for nine years and have two young daughters, four-year-old Charlotte and Ruby, three.

While Bec has "experienced the feelings of being a golf widow", she said Millar was a full-time golfer when they met.

Having two young kids and a husband on the other side of the planet might not be most wives' cup of tea, but Bec said she would love for her husband to get back to Europe.

The nurse enjoyed joining Millar on tour in the past and was excited about the chance of travelling again.

Bec had just given birth to Charlotte when Millar qualified for the 2011 British Open at Royal St George's and the three of them travelled over for it later that year.

She said Millar's touring tapered from there and she felt it "probably related to him wanting to be with his girls more".

"I would be fully supportive of him if he had to go to tour school for Europe or Japan at the end of the year," she said.

"I did enjoy my trips to Europe when he used to play on the European Tour, so it would be nice to see him achieve that again because I believe he's a better player today than he was when I first met him.

"It would be so much more enjoyable watching him play in Europe again or in Japan. Yes, I'm not the nagging wife that's holding him back."

Bec said her and Millar's mates, who all call him "Rug" for his hairy chest, had labelled 2015 the Year of the Rug.

She was hoping 2016 would follow a similar pattern.

"Maybe we'll have to make it 2016 Year of the Rug and go with that again," Bec said.

"I just hope he enjoys a rest now and gets back out there and takes the opportunities as they present themselves to him.

"If the World Golf Championships come along or invites to different tournaments come along I'll be definitely encouraging him to do it ... you can't sit back and live a life of regrets with golf."

Millar said "ticking off " one of Australia's big three tournaments - the Open, Masters or PGA - was a main goal for 2016, but they could clash with the two qualifying schools he might have a crack at.

With the $1.75 million Perth International returning in 2016, Millar might not have to bother about qualifying for Europe.

If he could win in Perth he would earn European status.

"I'd like to win one of those big ones, that'll remain one goal to try and tick off, that's for sure," Millar said.

"We'll continue to do what we've been doing and go about it the same way and if we can knock off one of those big ones.

"And if you did knock off the one in Perth, well, that'll solve all your problems in one go - it's tri-sanctioned with Europe and Asia.

"You'd get your full status on the European Tour as a winner and you'd definitely get into the HSBC Champions in China."