• Alistair Tait

How will 15-year-old Josh Hill handle European Tour pressure?

I hope Josh Hill is ready for the most pressure he’s ever faced in his 15 years of existence.

(Some of us have socks older than Hill.)

Fifteen year olds don’t normally tee it up in European Tour events, especially one ranked 909th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, but the English teenager will do just that in not one, but two this month in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

How he’ll handle the challenge of two weeks on the European Tour’s Desert Swing will give the world of golf an idea of his future potential.

Hill was already exempt for Dubai after winning the Al Ain Open on the Mena Tour in October. A final round 62 helped him become the youngest winner of an Official World Golf Order Ranking event. Hill bettered Ryo Ishikawa’s record set in 2007 with victory in the 2007 Munsingwear Open KSB Cup. Hill was two months younger at 15 years and six months than the Japanese player was 13 years ago.

The teenager then earned his Abu Dhabi HSBC spot by winning the Abu Dhabi Amateur Championship at last month.

Hill is no stranger to success in the royal & ancient game. He topped the 2018 Emirates Golf Federation Order of Merit thanks to winning eight tournaments in the space of three months.

It’s prompted some media outlets to label Hill a “phenom,” which might be a tad over the top. I always feel uncomfortable when such tags are applied to one so young: it brings high hopes that can’t always be met. This game is hard enough without the weight of expectation on young shoulders.

Perhaps a more accurate assessment of Hill’s game can be found in his 2019 performances outside the Middle East. The teenager finished 21st in the Peter McEvoy Trophy, a good showing in one of Britain’s top under-18 tournaments. He didn’t fare so well in other events.

Hill missed cuts in the West of England Stroke Play, Lytham Trophy, Brabazon Trophy, St Andrews Links Trophy, Amateur Championship and English Amateur. No shame in that since he was playing against older, elite amateurs. However, Hill missed the cut in the McGregor Trophy (the English Under 16 Stroke Play), and failed to qualify for the match play rounds of the Boys Amateur Championship. He returned a second round 79 at Saunton Golf Club in the latter tournament.

Expectations need to be to be tempered slightly.

Ishikawa has gone on to another 16 victories on the Japanese Tour but has not managed to win outside his homeland. He’s currently ranked 83rd on the Official World Golf Ranking, 1,111 spots above Hill.

Let’s hope Hill can come close to or even better Ishikawa’s career. How Hill fares against Europe’s elite might just determine his future. It’s a huge step for a teenager. Is it the right one? Only history will tell.

Fingers crossed.

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