Even for someone called Hill, it’s been a remarkable climb. Staggering, in fact, and even Calum Hill himself admits to being surprised at currently being the world No 126 and, as such, the Scottish No 3 behind Russell Knox and Bob MacIntyre.
In fairness, the 24-year-old has produced some phenomenal golf over the past few months – he’s at it again on his Alfred Dunhill Links Championship debut – but the bulk of that eye-catching form has come on the Challenge Tour as opposed to the European Tour.
Mainly on the back of two wins in the summer, Hill currently tops the order of merit on the second-tier circuit and had his main tour card for next season wrapped up a few weeks ago. But what about that lofty position in the world rankings?
As a result of his rapid rise from 1,482nd before winning the Northern Ireland Open on the Challenge Tour last year, he’s well ahead of Scotland’s two winners on the European Tour this season, David Law and Stephen Gallacher, in 289th and 331st respectively. Even after finishing sixth in last week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, Richie Ramsay, inset, sits nearly 200 spots below Hill in 308th.
“I’ve seen where I am and I was a bit surprised,” confessed Hill after backing an opening 65 with a bogey-free 65 at St Andrews to sit on 12-under-par, one behind the leader, Englishman Matthew Jordan, on his first appearance in the £4 million Dunhill Links event. “It’s nice to be working up that way. If I can be in a similar position to what I am at the moment by the start of next season and start well, it could put me in a great position for next year.”
A big finish here – and he’s still got Carnoustie, the toughest of the three tests to come before the leaderboard really starts to take shape – and the Fifer could join 86th-ranked Knox and McIntyre, who sits 96th, in the top 100. Or even jump above them.
“It’s all just things that are hopefully setting a really good foundation for next year to have a promising year,” added Hill, who looked very much at home on his top-tour debut when finishing joint-26th in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in July and is doing so once again here.
On a day that started nicely before turning wet from lunchtime onwards, he carded seven birdies on the Old Course. Before rolling in a ten-footer at the last, the Gleneagles Hotel-attached player almost looked as though he was doing some sort of rain dance but explained afterwards that it was part of his AimPoint process.
“When it first came out, a lot of people used it, including Adam Scott, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose,” he said. “I started maybe a year after it came out and have probably been using it for a good six years. It’s helped me out – I putted really well today, for instance – and I probably won’t stop using it.”
As Englishman Jordan, winner of the St Andrews Links Trophy in 2017, shot to the top of the leaderboard with a 64 on the Old Course, Richie Ramsay and Russell Knox joined Hill in keeping their foot on the pedal after strong starts. Ramsay, the runner-up in this in 2014, carded a 67 at St Andrews while Knox signed for a 66 – equalling the best score of the day – at Carnoustie to both sit on 13-under.
World No 4 Justin Rose is also on that mark after storming to the turn in 28 en route to a 64 at Kingsbarns, where second-ranked Rory McIlroy one-putted the first five holes on his way to a 66 for eight-under. They both now head to St Andrews as Hill and Ramsay head for Carnoustie, with Knox tackling Kingsbarns in his third circuit.