Josh Hill during practice at Ghala G.C. on Sunday. (Photo courtesy MENA Tour by Arena)
By Kent Gray
It’s back to Middle East golf’s ultimate finishing school for Josh Hill after the teen has spent the past month absorbing some eye-opening European Tour lessons before burying his nose in some proper course books.
After sitting out the first two events of the 2020 MENA Tour by Arena season to catch up on his GCSE course work, the 15-year-old Trump Dubai member will tee it up in the $75,000 Ghala Open on Monday.
The circuit’s reigning amateur champion has been grouped with his professional Journey to Jordan counterpart, MG Keyser, and Englishman Ben Hutchinson for the opening round at Ghala G.C. Four-time European Tour winner David Horsey, using the event as a warm-up to next week’s $1.75 million Oman Open at nearby Al Mouj Golf, is also in Muscat, along with defending Ghala Open champion Nick Marsh – like Hill making his season bow – and the winners of the first two events of the season in Aqaba and Cairo, David Langley and Sebastien Gros respectively.
But it will be Hill’s return that captures the early attention after his breakout 2019 when he won the Al Ain Open to claim the world record as the youngest winner of an Official World Golf Ranking event in October. That led to the amateur Journey to Jordan title and a start at the OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic. The England Boys’ rep also qualified for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. While an un-co-operative driver saw him miss the cut at both Desert Swing events, he’s fizzing to get back into the MENA Tour swing of things.
“Playing in Abu Dhabi and Dubai was a most wonderful experience. I learned so much. I am already practicing differently for events having seen how well and how detailed the leading pros practice,” said Hill.
Jordanian 19-year-old Shergo Al Kurdi has dominated the early amateur narrative in 2020, highlighted by his runner-up finish at the season-opener at Ayla Golf Club a fortnight ago. Al Kurdi isn’t in Muscat but Hill, who recorded his first MENA Tour top 10 at this event last year, has ample amateur rivalry with pals Toby Bishop and Arjun Gupta among those just as determined to take advantage of the absence of the current amateur Order-of-Merit leader Al Kurdi.
“I love the layout of the Ghala Golf Club. I played well here last year, and I want to play well again and make a good start to my season,” said Hill. “Even though I am not playing the full schedule on the MENA Tour this year, I still aim to win the Amateur Order of Merit and get back to the Omega Dubai Desert Classic next year.”
Marsh is also hoping to renew his love affair with Ghala after winning last year’s title by two stokes from now Challenge Tour star Robin Roussell. Marsh triumphed on 18-under and 14 of those gained shots came on the Ghala’s inward nine.
“Just feels great to be back at Ghala Golf Club. It’s my first event of 2020 and I’m really looking forward to get back playing again,” said Marsh who once reached 14th in the world amateur rankings.
“Last year, winning here was amazing, shooting 18-under for three rounds was awesome. I still don’t know why I have such a love affair with the back nine, maybe it just suits my eye…I don’t know. But I hope it continues this week.”
And added motivation for the players this week is that the Ghala Open champion will also receive an invitation to participate in next week’s Oman Open on the European Tour.
“It’s a huge motivation, not only to win on the MENA Tour again but the rewards you get for that. A start in a main European Tour is a money-can’t-buy experience, to be able to test yourself against the best players in the world… However, I will take it one step at a time,” Marsh said.