Craig Sutherland, a 36-year-old who was born and bred in the Orkney Islands but now lives in Kent, claimed victory in the 36-hole event, beating West Linton professional Gareth Wright in a play-off as they secured two of the five spots up for grabs after finishing with 12-under 130 totals.
The next two berths in the £3.25 million event starting on Thursday went to Wright’s Tartan Tour compatriots Greig Hutcheon (Paul Lawrie Golf Centre) and Graham Fox (Clydeway Golf) as the former Scottish PGA champions finished a shot behind as their experience came to the fore.
But it was Hill who delivered the sort of fairytale this event was created for as the youngster, who cut his golfing teeth on the children’s course in the town before becoming a Tantallon member at the age of ten, earned a place alongside Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson & Co in one of the European Tour’s biggest events.
“It is brilliant,” he beamed after displaying maturity beyond his years in following up a seven-under 64 with a polished 68 to claim the last spot, finishing a shot ahead of Duncan Stewart and namesake Michael, a former Scottish Amateur Championship winner at Gullane, as they came up agonisingly short after two exciting days. “I’ve given myself something really exciting to look forward to now and I can’t wait to get along the road to Gullane tomorrow morning.”
Halfway through a scholarship at the University of Louisiana Monroe, Hill lives around 500 yards from the historic West Links. His parents own a guest house in North Berwick and he had plenty of locals out supporting him in both rounds. “That was a lot of fun,” he said. “I felt really comfortable and played well.
“I was in the States when I heard this event was going to be held at North Berwick so I let the Scottish Golf Union know that I’d be keen to get one of the amateur spots. I was pretty excited when I got the shout as I felt confident that I could do really well around here.” Like Hill, Sutherland will be making his first European Tour appearance later this week and he’s hoping the Scottish fans will also get behind him on the East Lothian coast. “I’ve lost my accent, but I promise you I’m Scottish,” he said, smiling, after holing a 20-foot birdie putt at the first extra hole to pip Wright for a £7,500 top prize.
Having negotiated 36 holes without a single bogey, he was a worthy winner with scores of 66 and 64. “I’ve never done that in my life,” reported Sutherland, who stormed home in five- under 30, holing three birdie putts ranging between 20-30 feet. “I was born in the Orkney Isles and went to school there,” said the fairly new recruit on the Scottish scene. “When I was 16 I went to London to live with an uncle and got a job at Hendon Golf Club. I played full-time through 2001-06 before becoming the head pro at Cherry Lodge in Kent. I only left there in March and have been sponsored by [equipment manufacturer] Lynx for 24 months.
“This will be my first European Tour event and my 37th birthday is on Thursday – a pretty good present, I’d say. I now live in Biggin Hill but have been up here for 16 days, having played in The Open qualifying then two PGA EuroPro Tour events at Newmachar and Montrose. I don’t think my girlfriend will be impressed that I’m staying up here for another week now, though hopefully she’ll understand!”
Wright, who also qualified for the 2013 Open at the same course, was helped by a hole-in-one on this occasion. It came courtesy of an 8-iron at the fourth and was his third as a professional. “That made me feel more comfortable, especially as I’d also birdied the previous hole,” said the Edinburgh-based Welshman, who had rounds of 64 and 66.
Hutcheon, the Tartan Tour No 1, secured his sixth Scottish Open appearance with efforts of 65 and 66, while Fox will be making his debut in the event thanks to the same scores but the other way around. “I’m chuffed,” admitted Hutcheon, who was level-par after ten holes in his opening round before coming alive after making an eagle at the 11th.
Also helped by an eagle – at the eighth in the second round – Fox said his success had been down to a new carefree attitude. “I just go out and try and enjoy it – and it works,” he said, smiling.
While heavy rain at either end tried to spoil things, this was an outstanding first staging, with Hill in particular enjoying two days he’ll never forget.