Calum Hill clearly loves the big stages. The bigger the better, in fact. He made the cut on his US Open debut at Shinnecock Hills last year and now he’s emulated that feat in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.
On another low-scoring day at the defenceless Renaissance Club in East Lothian – the halfway lead of 14-under-par is a record for the event – the 24-year-old Gleneagles-attached player was bogey-free as he carded a 64.
On 10-under, Hill is sitting joint 11th heading into the final two rounds after coming through last weekend’s qualifer along the coast at Longniddry and, though he’s got some big guns for company on the leaderboard, that experience at the same stage in a major could be useful.
As could having Ross Noon, who caddies here, on his bag for the first time, especially with his knowledge of the giant greens and their humps and bumps. The pick of Hill’s seven birdies was a “20-footer around the slope” at the short 15th and Noon, no doubt, had a big hand in that nice little bonus.
“I played nicely and hit it lovely,” said Hill, who was born in Kirkcaldy and lived in Fife for a spell but is now based in Crook of Devon after returning from a spell at college in the US just over a year ago. “I went back to Gleneagles yesterday to do some practice on my Explanar [a swing training aid] and that worked out well.”
Hill is on the Challenge Tour, where he won the Northern Ireland Open last season. Events on the second-tier circuit are a shoot-out almost every week and, with that happening here on a rain-softened course, he is feeling comfortable about having to play aggressively. “Every week on the Challenge Tour, you have to get yourself to 20 [under] and you might have a chance,” he said. “There’s no letting off the gas. It’s really good for setting you up with the mentality to shoot really good scores.”
More of the same over the weekend and he could get himself in the mix for three spots up for grabs in next week’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush. “I don’t know, it’s just the way it is, I guess,” he replied to being asked about seeming to thrive in big events. “There’s not much pressure on me. It’s nice to be playing with family watching and around a golf course I seem to quite like. In an ideal world, the best situation would be a spot for next week. I’ll just keep on doing what I’m doing and we’ll see what happens at the end of the week.”
Sharing the honour of setting that record-breaking halfway total are Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, Englishman Lee Slattery and South African Erik Van Rooyen. Wiesberger carded a course-record 61 that contained 11 birdies, including five on the spin to finish, while a brace of 64s did the trick for Slattery and Van Rooyen.
Slattery had missed six cuts in a row before stopping the rot in the Irish Open last week then signing off with a 65 at Lahinch. “I found a golf swing at last,” said the two-time tour winner. After turning 40 last year, he hit the gym. “You turn 40, and you think, ‘have I got another good ten years left in me?’ It was the only way to do it. It’s taken a while to kick in, but hopefully I’ll start to play better now.”
Lurking ominously, two shots behind alongside Italian Nino Bertasio, is Henrik Stenson. Three years after winning the Open Championship at Royal Troon after a thrilling duel with Phil Mickelson in the final two rounds, the Swede is warming up nicely for next week’s final major of the season at Portrush.
He’s bogey-free so far and is happy about that. “I’m pleased with the way I’ve played,” said Stenson, who is chasing a first win since landing the Wyndham Championship on the PGA Tour in 2017. “I would have liked to see a little tougher test than we’ve had these first two days, but weather in Scotland can always change pretty quickly, as you know, so we’ll see what the weekend brings us.”
On a packed leaderboard, 14 players are within four shots of the lead, including 2017 US PGA champion Justin Thomas after a 64 that included eight birdies. “I feel comfortable about a lot of my game right now,” said the American, who was out with a wrist injury earlier in the year. “I just need to keep continuing to do that, not only for the rest of the week but the rest of the season.”
With a matching second-round effort late in the day, Scott Jamieson sits on eight-under, a shot ahead of both local man Grant Forrest (68) and Renaissance Club-attached Richie Ramsay (70), while David Drysdale (69) also made it through after the cut moved from six-under to five-under after Swede Anton Karlsson bogeyed the last in one of the final groups.
Marc Warren, Stephen Gallacher and Bob MacIntyre all missed out by a shot, the latter admitting he was “gutted” to suffer a rare missed cut this season on his debut in the event.