Calum Hill opens up on insect bite that sidelined him for months as he eyes Dunhill Links 'stepping stone'

Calum Hill, Scottish golf’s forgotten man this season, is using this week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship to find out if he is finally on the road to recovery.

Callum Hill reacts on the 18th green at St Andrews during last year's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images.
Callum Hill reacts on the 18th green at St Andrews during last year's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images.

A couple of months after landing a maiden DP World Tour win in the Cazoo Classic last August, the 27-year-old suffered an insect bite playing in Spain that saw his 2021 campaign end with two withdrawals.

He tried to make his comeback in Qatar at the end of March only to be forced to pull out after just one round and it’s taken until now for him to finally feel he’s ready to test the water again.

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“(The year) has had its challenges,” admitted Hill, who is among 12 Scots teeing up in the $5million pro-am, which starts on Thursday at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.

“The main issue was the extent of time it took to figure out what was going on. And then, after that it’s just a process you go through.

“It’s been one of those things, really unfortunate. But finally I’m going in the right direction and hopefully I’ll be 100 per cent normal by January next year.”

The Crook of Devon-based player was checked out by various doctors and specialists around the UK before finally getting to the root of the niggling problem.

“It ended up being nerve damage, so lots of scans to see what was wrong,” he added. “Anatomically I’m fine, but they couldn’t put a finger on it and with Covid everything was delayed, weeks to get results and weeks longer to get appointments.

“But it turned out to be nerve damage, or nerve hypersensitivity is the right phrase. It just causes the muscles to go into spasm the more they get used. There’s no relaxation and it just gets more and more contracted, that’s what causes the pain. And that’s what meant I wasn’t able to play.”

Helped by his title triumph at The London Club, Hill was on course to secure a spot in the 150th Open at St Andrews through the DP World Tour Rankings before being bitten by a mosquito playing in Madrid.

“The origination was from an insect bite then I got a few other infections on top of the first one and that has all just ended up causing the nerve-related problems,” he explained. “I think I was just a bit under the weather and my immune system was weakened by the original infection.

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“It was about May time where I got directed towards this physio and as soon as I saw him he said ‘this is your problem and I know how to fix it’. The doctor at the same time agreed as he said there was no anatomical problem and it was nice to get a clear picture of what the problem is and how to progress with it.

“Up until that point, at the end of May, it still seemed to be oblivious to everyone who was looking into it. Everyone’s hopeful it will be quicker but nerves can take a long time to reprogramme.

“I think originally we were hoping Wentworth would be a target. It’s one of those where you have to listen to your body and listen to the people who are treating you and not overload, because you can delay the full fitness at the end of it.”

Hill finished joint-17th in last year’s Dunhill Links and isn’t too bothered about some bad weather set to hit this edition, but, having only played a handful of rounds over the past few months, he’s not entirely sure what to expect.

“I guess I feel like my mental game is a strength of my golf, and it’s helped out with this side of things,” he admitted. “There’s always little bits when things are going on and you have little doubts.

“But I know if I get back to be able to play golf, it’ll be fine. It’s just getting the body there and we’re making good progress with it. That’s the only part I have any hesitation over - if it is progressing, the golf will take care of itself.

“This is solely a week to see how the body holds up, and how we’re progressing. This will be the first time I’ve played in a long time. We’ll just see how I handle the load and see how I holed up. “Golf wise there’s not a huge amount of expectation because I’ve not being doing anything. This is solely to see how I’m progressing. I’d say I’m 70 per cent of the way there and hopefully the next few months will take me to 100%. This is just a stepping stone.”

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Hill, who won three times on the Challenge Tour before graduating to the main circuit, was sitting just outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Rankings a year ago, but, as a result of his absence, he’s slipped to 266th. With an exemption from his win, he doesn’t have to worry about losing his card at the end of this season and, as a result of that, he’s determined not to heap any unnecessary pressure on himself.

“Last year was a nice year so I'd have liked to keep pushing on,” he said, “but I'm still on the younger side and I've got plenty of years of European Tour golf left. I’m quite happy it’s happened now and not a few years later when more important things might have come along. There’s plenty of time to catch up.”

Depending on what happens this week, his only other event before the end of the season is likely to be the Portugal Masters at the end of next month.

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