Calum Hill on staying ahead of the game in lockdown
Calum Hill is the odd man out among Scotland’s exciting new crop of European Tour card holders. While Bob MacIntyre, David Law, Grant Forrest and Connor Syme have all progressed up the professional ladder on the back of eye-catching amateur careers, Hill has shown that talent can develop in different ways.
The highlight of his amateur career was winning a couple of Perth & Kinross county events and, playing off two at the time, the possibility of pursuing a career in the paid ranks wasn’t even on his radar when he headed across the Atlantic to start a spell at Western New Mexico University. “Back then, I didn’t expect to turn pro or play golf for a living,” he admitted. “I was just aiming to go out there to have some fun and play in some golf tournaments.”
To say that he was transformed in his time with the “Mustangs” would be an understatement. Hill was hailed by the head coach, Kent Beatty, as “the total package as a student athlete”. He enjoyed a blistering spring season in 2016 in his senior year, making the NCAA All-American team. After graduating with an accountancy degree, the Scot decided to stay on for another two years to do a Masters in Business Administration, combining his studies with the role of men’s assistant golf coach.
“I played really well in my senior year, which gave me the chance to turn pro,” the 25-year-old, who was born in Kirkcaldy and brought up in Fife but now lives in Crook of Devon, close to Gleneagles, where he has an attachment, told Scotland on Sunday. “I decided to give it a go and it’s worked out very well since then. I think that’s just been a bit of luck and good fortune in my favour combined with a golf game that has got a bit better every year. It’s worked out well. It’s definitely not something I had planned, but I will take it.
“Going to college in America can be somewhat hit or miss. You might not enjoy it. Some guys come home, but others love it. Where I ended up, the programme, the coach and the team were all great and I loved it. It created a great environment for improvement and I lucked out being there.”
Players may require luck occasionally to taste victory, but it is always impressive to see someone develop a winning habit, as Hill has over the past three years. He was still in that assistant coach’s role with WNMU when he romped to a nine-shot success in the San Juan Open then backed that up with an equally-impressive performance to land the Arizona Open.
In just his fifth start on the Challenge Tour after finally coming home, he won the Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm Castle in the summer of 2018. Two more victories on the second-tier circuit last year – in the Euram Bank Open and Made in Denmark Challenge – helped him graduate to the European Tour this season.
Even in golf’s recent lockdown, Hill managed to taste more success. Having headed to Arizona to spend some time with his American girlfriend, Miranda, he won the Verrado Founders Championship on the Outlaw Tour before also coming out on top in the Skyline Open in Tucson.
“Those wins covered the cost of the flights and, all in all, being out in the States worked out quite well as I was able to play and practice due to the courses in Arizona staying open,” he said, having now returned home in preparation for the European Tour’s new six-event UK Swing starting next month. “It kept me a bit sharper probably than some of the guys who had to stick to a net in their back garden.
“It was especially good to be able to get to play in some events after implementing some swing changes. It’s been a work in progress since February, so the lockdown happened at a good time for me as it gave me three months to focus on what I was doing as opposed to working on it while playing at the same time. It was good to be in a competitive situation to see how it would hold up and test it out. Things are coming along quite nicely as I am starting to hit it quite good. I’m happy with how it has panned out.
“Golf is probably one of the hardest sports to win at. It definitely takes a bit of luck, but I think you also have to be comfortable in that situation. It is a good habit to have and, hopefully, I can keep having it. It would be great to win at every level I play at.”
Hill’s rapid rise in the game is illustrated by the world rankings, where he sits 139th. Only MacIntyre (72nd) and Russell Knox (127th) are above him in the standings when it comes to players with Saltires beside their name. Set to have the same main tour status next season due to the 2020 schedule being ravaged by the Covid-19 crisis, Hill is determined to not only retain his seat at the top table in European golf over the next few years but also open some doors on the PGA Tour.
“From late July until December, it seems as though we are going to have events every week on the European Tour,” he said. “If I can start playing good golf again when we restart, hopefully I can improve my world ranking position to get into some WGCs and majors next year. Like everyone else, that’s what I am working towards.
“I couldn’t have asked for much more with regards to how things have gone over the last couple of years, how smoothly the transition has been and also managing to have some success at the levels I’ve been playing in that time. I’m quite happy about that and hopefully next year that continues at the same rate at a higher tier with greater depth.
“It’s about focusing on the right things and, hopefully, I can progress at the same speed and be playing at the level where Bob (his Bounce Sport stablemate) is at or Victor Perez [the Dundee-based Frenchman who won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last year to put himself in contention for this year’s Ryder Cup]. They were both on the Challenge Tour a couple of years back but are now playing in WGCs and majors.”
Five of the six events on the aforementioned UK Swing will carry prize funds of under £1 million, with Keith Pelley, the European Tour chief executive, having been quick to warn his members that tough times are set to lie ahead for the circuit as it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s not a big deal for me,” said Hill, who became a GAC brand ambassador earlier in the year and is also sponsored by Blue Group, of that potential landscape change. “I’ve not really experienced everything that comes with a European Tour card a lot so far in my career, so it’s not as though I’m going to really notice when it’s gone. I’ll just be happy to get back out playing again against some of the best players in the world on the European Tour.
“It’s still decent money for these UK Swing tournaments and, if you are playing good golf, you will reap the rewards. It’s not exactly small, just smaller than the guys are used to it and just shows you the nice living you can make off the European Tour if that’s small.”
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