By Kent Gray
Another day, another ridiculously low score and yet more silverware for Dubai-based teen phenom Josh Hill.
The 14-year-old Englishman came within a whisker of the Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club course record as a 62 saw him stretch a two-stroke overnight lead into an emphatic six shot defence of his Faldo Series Middle East Championship title on Thursday.
Hill won the U-16 crown by four strokes last March and was even more impressive in his defence as a bogey-free eight under loop threatened the 61 carded by Brazilian Herik Machado at the Faldo Series’ European Grand Final at Al Ain before Christmas.
It saw Hill finish an astonishing -14 for the 54 hole event and lead a Jumeirah Golf Estates sweep of the U-16 and overall podium with Arjun Gupta (India) and Toby Bishop (Wales) sharing second on -8 after closing rounds of 66. The trio’s Butch Harmon School of Golf Dubai pal Krishiv Tekchandani rounded out the top four on -1 after recovering from a three-over opening round 73 with back-to-back 68s.
There was further joy in the Gupta family with Arjun’s sister Natalii roaring to victory in the girls division with a stunning closing round of 66 to pip England’s Billie-Jo Smith by a shot.
But the spotlight was justifiably on Hill who came into the week on the back of a runner-up finish at the Faldo Series Asian Grand Final and three successive Emirates Golf Federation Open Men’s wins at JGE, Abu Dhabi and Trump Dubai, the latter sealed with a course record 65. But that, it turns out, is only half the story.
“It’s been good, I’ve won six of the last seven tournaments I’ve played,” Hill said matter-of-factly.
“I went to the Asian final, that was a great experience, a great course [the Faldo designed-Laguna Lang Co in Vietnam], so I want to get back there, hopefully qualify for that one again.”
Hill will get that chance in November when AESGC again hosts the Faldo Series Europe Grand Final, from which the winners will return to Vietnam.
“I played solid [all week],” he continued. “I played well today obviously but I didn’t hit my driver great but when I was out of position I got back into position and managed to make up and downs so my short game was on point.”
Also on point this week has been the friendly rivalry with Gupta and Bishop with whom Hill played the final 36 holes.
“Yeah, they really good friends. It was fun playing with them and it was fun seeing them playing well as well. Good fun.”
For a clear illustration of just how well Hill and his JGE mates played, know that Denmark’s Mikkel Mathieson was fifth overall and that was good enough to win the U-18 division by six strokes over Italian Sasha Sparacino.
India’s Arkesh Bhatia closed with an impressive 67 to win the U-21 men’s title with a +4 aggregate, 13 strokes ahead of UAE national team player Abdullah Al Qubaisi who slipped with a Wednesday 76.
Even Sir Nick Faldo, the six-time major champion, was impressed by Hill.
“My thanks to Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club on another successful Middle East Championship in Al Ain. Congratulations to all the winners and in particular Josh who is on an incredible run of form of late winning all over the UAE.
“Having played the course myself I know first hand how great the conditioning of the course is and such an experience AESGC has to offer. It was great to have such an international field for the event with 19 nationalities represented, such a global reach is something the Faldo Series is very proud to have. I look forward to meeting the winners in November at AESGC personally, our new European Grand Final home.”