Martin Dempster: Hill turns disappointment into blistering displays

Calum Hill has climbed to second in the Challenge Tour rankings. Picture: SNS.
Calum Hill has climbed to second in the Challenge Tour rankings. Picture: SNS.
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I n the space of a few weeks, Calum Hill has gone from being the most disappointed golfer I’ve come across this summer to a very happy chap as Scotland’s recent success story on the Challenge Tour keeps adding exciting new chapters.

It was after the third round of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club last month that the 24-year-old was unable to hide how gutted he felt about having just carded a level-par 71.

On his European Tour debut, Hill had opened with rounds of 68-64 to sit handily-placed at the halfway stage in the Rolex Series event and felt he had wasted that good work with a disappointing display in the penultimate circuit on the East Lothian coast as everyone else was shooting the lights out.

A polite young man, as so many professional golfers, male and female, are, Hill agreed to a request from my good friend Brian McLauchlin, who was a member of the BBC Radio Scotland team covering the event live, to a post-round interview, which, alas, didn’t last long.

Hill’s answers were very short and, standing a few feet away waiting to grill him next, I was among a small group of people who shook heads simultaneously in agreement that it was perhaps not worth our while.

Twenty-four hours later, after he had bounced back with a closing 66 to finish in the top 30, the Gleneagles Hotel-attached player spoke more openly about the sense of disappointment he’d felt that Saturday, and over the past few weeks he has used that as a springboard to go from strength to strength.

He has chalked up two wins in three starts on the Challenge Tour, landing the Euram Bank Open in Austria then adding the Made in Denmark Challenge.

In between, he also finished third in the Vierumaki Finnish Challenge. In his last four events, he is a remarkable 67 under par, which is sensational stuff by anyone’s standards.

Make that 77 under if you add in the 62 and 64 he shot at Longniddry to qualify for the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.

Having climbed to second in the Challenge Tour rankings on the back of his blistering run of form, it is effectively job done for Hill in terms of securing a European Tour card for next season. He will make that step up before then if he can record a third win on the second-tier circuit over the coming few weeks as that gains automatic promotion.

Brooks Koepka made that same switch, of course, in 2013 after completing his title hat-trick in the Scottish Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore ,and Hill is now enjoying a similar spell to the American as he set tongues wagging before going on to become a three-time major winner.

This week he’s heading back to Galgorm Castle, where he made his breakthrough 12 months ago when winning the Northern Ireland Open, which has now become the new ISPS Handa World Invitational involving both men and women on the same stage but battling out for equal prize-money in separate events.

Add in Connor Syme’s Turkish Airlines Challenge at the start of the campaign and that’s three tartan triumphs on the Challenge Tour this season with 11 events still to come. It is also now seven Scottish successes on the circuit in the last two seasons following Liam Johnston tasting victory twice in 2018 and David Law also winning then in addition to Hill.

Johnston and Law, of course, went on to graduate to the main tour along with Grant Forrest and Bob MacIntyre through finishing in the top 15 in the rankings . Now both Hill and Syme, who sits seventh, are on course to do likewise, with Ewen Ferguson also pushing hard after being inspired by all his mates making progress.

A step below on the ladder, the Saltire has been prominent on leaderboards all season long on the PGA EuroPro Tour, with titles falling to both Daniel Young and James Ross in recent weeks, with Ryan Campbell, Neil Fenwick and Calum Fyfe all knocking at the door as well.

An exciting time indeed for Scottish golf and fair play to Hill for channeling that rare disappointing round recently so well in order to be playing his part in that.