ABU DHABI, DUBAI, JEDDAH: Josh Hill’s journey through golf’s major tournaments in the GCC continues this week at the Saudi International, which tees off at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City on Thursday morning.
And although the Dubai-based 17-year-old is coming off yet another excellent performance at the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, he continues to set his sights ever higher. Simply taking part and making the cut, as he did in the two UAE-based events, is not enough.
“The Desert Classic was a good week, it was fun,” the young Briton said. “The setup was amazing and Slync did really well with how they got the atmosphere to be so great.”
Hill finished joint 53rd, having at one point hit 23 on the leaderboard.
“I made another cut which isn’t always the goal but it’s a good achievement. I had a good third round, got right up the leaderboard and then had a bad final day,” he said.
“There’s many reasons why, but the overall experience of playing the Desert Classic was unreal, and playing in Abu Dhabi has taught me a lot going into this week. I feel I can keep pushing, keep playing good golf and keep climbing the leaderboards in these top events. So it was a good week and I learned a lot.”
A week earlier Hill excelled in his first ever appearance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. And teeing off alongside some of the world’s best players did not seem to faze him.
“It was good fun, the whole week,” he said. “Played a practice round with Lee (Westwood) and Bernd (Wiesberger) and then with (Emirati golfer) Ahmad Skaik, a good friend. And then playing some good golf on the Thursday, I was quite happy with it and then it was a struggle on Friday.
“But to bounce back the way I did on Saturday was such a good feeling. And then I had a disappointing Sunday, but the whole week in general was a great experience and I learned a lot from it.”
While all golfers are always pleased to make the cut, Hill said he was thinking about more than that.
“I mean, my goal wasn’t really to make the cut,” he said. “My goal was to stick to the process of each shot and see what the outcome was. I feel I’m good enough, not just to make the cut but to push on a bit further. But if I concentrate on results, that’s when the results won’t come. So my goal was never result-based.”
Asked if his experience at Yas Links was one of the highlights of his young career, Hill said: “It’s definitely up there. Especially in the way that I made the cut. That was pretty special. And it was a great week.”
Hill was born and raised in Dubai and by the age of two was swinging plastic clubs, before moving on to the real thing at just six. While neither of his parents are golfers, his family played a major part in him picking up the game at such a young age.
“My grandparents live in Spain, and when you walk outside the house it’s on a golf course. So that’s pretty much how I got into it,” he said.
It wasn’t long before he was entering junior events in Dubai.
“I was between six and eight, just playing the Creek par three tournaments. That was the first time I’ve ever really competed as a golfer.”
A decade later he is heading to Jeddah for the Saudi International alongside the likes of reigning champion Dustin Johnson, US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau, and past major champions Louis Oosthuizen, Phil Mickelson, Shane Lowry and Bubba Watson.
“It’s a big honor to get the invite, with such big names going in such a big tournament,” Hill said. “I can only thank everyone that helped me get into it and got me the invite. And I’m really looking forward to getting over there. I’ve heard great things about the place.”
“I’m very lucky to be in the position I am, and I’m very grateful for it. To play with some of the best players in the world and be competing with them is great experience. It’s an opportunity that people my age rarely get, but I’m lucky enough to get them and take full advantage of them.”
While playing alongside the professionals in recent weeks has been an education, Hill continues to draw inspiration from arguably golf’s greatest ever player.
“The main man is Tiger, isn’t he?” he said. “You look at Tiger and you’ve learned so much from him. And he’s just a guy that’s done a lot in golf and I think I speak for everyone when I say it, he’s most people’s role model.”
Hill trains at the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai and had a special message for all the staff there.
“They’ve been so helpful for me and so supportive of me, so I can’t thank them enough,” he said.
Hill is guided by one of golf’s leading coaches, but it is not without challenges as he does not reside in the UAE.
“My coach lives in England actually, Rob Watts,” Hill said. “He’s the England coach as well and since I met him we got on really well, and I like his philosophies of swing and the game in general. So we work really well together.”
“I see him every summer but when I’m in Dubai and the UAE, I just FaceTime him, call him on the phone and we talk stuff through,” he added. “I send through some videos, and even though we’re many miles away, it still works pretty well.”
Beyond the Saudi International, Hill, not surprisingly given his level-headed approach to his career, is not setting any specific targets for 2022.
“Playing a lot of the amateur stuff, hopefully be able to get over to the US as well to play there,” he said. “I’ve still got a decision to make on my future in general, but I’m going to try to relish these few weeks and then make the decision after.”
And the big decision whether to “go pro or go to college” will have to wait, he said.