After creating history on the MENA Tour when he became the youngest player to secure his card through Qualifying School, Dubai-based Josh Hill has now set his sights on further glory when the season starts with the first tournament at Ayla Golf Club in Aqaba, Jordan, from Saturday.
The 14-year-old Hill, who was a runaway winner of the 2017 Emirates Golf Federation Men’s Order of Merit, finished tied 27th at three-over 219 in the 54-hole B Stage, from which the top 34 players qualified at five-over 221.
Hill’s effort is even more remarkable because he had a nightmarish start with an eight-over 80 in tough playing conditions on day one.
No other player who shot worse than 77 on the opening day could qualify. He then added a three-under 69 and 70 in the final two rounds on the par-72 Greg Norman-designed golf course.
When told that he was the youngest ever to secure a full card on the MENA Tour, Hill was taken by surprise and said: “I did not know that. That’s pretty cool.
“But to be honest, I thought I’d finish a bit higher. Having said that, the field was very good, much better than what I thought it was going to be. Considering that I got a full card in a field that had so many Challenge Tour and other established players, it was a pretty good effort.”
Hill, who also won the European Under-16 Faldo Series title and is coached by Joe Marshall at the Claude Harmon III Performance Institute in Dubai Sports City, said he would cherish the experience of playing a Qualifying School so early in his career and feels the teaching will give him a definite advantage when he plays the first tournament, Journey to Jordan 1.
“I did feel a bit of pressure,” said Hill.
“I wanted to guarantee that I had a card for myself so that I can play all nine or 10 events that I want to play this season. So, I did feel a bit of pressure…not much, not like what the pros must have felt.
“It has definitely prepared me for the first tournament. I know how the course plays now and how I need to play it under tournament pressure. In any other tournament, I would not have so much information before teeing off on day one. I am really pumped up for the tournament and can’t wait for it to start.”
Hill has set himself some lofty goals for the season.
“My expectations are to top the Amateur Order of Merit and get at least one top-five finish. I want to win a lot of world amateur golf ranking points and compete against the top players in the region,” revealed Hill, who is currently ranked 1,753 in the amateur world rankings.
Not the weather we expected at @AylaOasis, but we have been told sunshine has been ordered for the tournament days! Overcast, intermittent rains, chilly winds - this could have been Scotland if not for those palm trees!! pic.twitter.com/4lCnu5Qxyu— MENA Tour (@theMENATour) 7 February 2019
“I hope to gain a lot of experience of what the professional game is like. There is a lot more etiquette and rules around the game that I need to be aware of. I think the MENA Tour is going to be great preparation for my future career as a pro golfer.”
Ayla Golf Club is the first championship-size green golf course in Jordan and opened to public play in September 2016.
The condition and its scenic setting adjacent to the Red Sea and at the foothills of the Shara Mountains have wowed the critics and golf fans ever since. The club will host three events of the 2019 season’s Journey to Jordan, including the season-ending Tour Championship.
The MENA Tour is returning to the world schedule after a year of restructuring and will feature 10 tournaments in 2019.
It will continue to provide official world golf ranking points, thus making it a perfect pathway for ambitious young professionals to the bigger tours, and for the players from the region to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Australia’s James Nitties equalled the world record by making nine consecutive birdies on a day of low scoring in the ISPS Handa Vic Open.
The 36-year-old’s incredible run matches the feat accomplished by former Open champion Mark Calcavecchia in the 2009 Canadian Open and followed a double bogey on the 14th hole of the Beach course at 13th Beach Golf Club, his fifth hole of the day.
Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger made nine birdies in a row at the 2017 Maybank Championship, but with preferred lies in play on that occasion Nitties’ run of gains made him the first player to officially do it on the European Tour.
“I had a good chance for that 10th birdie but I didn’t want to break it,” Nitties joked. “It’s such a longstanding record, I wouldn’t do that to Mark, so it’s good to hold it with him.
“I’m pumped. I don’t hold any other world records that I know of, so to be a part of one is pretty cool. I definitely have the world record for best bounce-back stat because I holed the nine birdies and I preceded it with a double-bogey.
“I was a little peeved off that I made double from the middle of the fairway and followed up with a couple of birdies and then rattled off about seven or eight more – it’s pretty special.”
An eight-under-par 64 left Nitties in a six-way tie for second alongside Jason Scrivener, James Anstiss, Callum Shinkwin, Kurt Kitayama and Hugo Leon, two shots behind leader Nick Flanagan, who had eight birdies and two eagles in a 62 on the Creek Course.
“A couple of early putts dropped and then I just wasn’t trying too hard, essentially,” Flanagan said. “I just had one of those days where everything seemed to kind of go right.”
The tournament is co-sanctioned by the European Tour and LPGA and features men and women playing on the same courses at the same time, for equal prize money.
In the women’s event, England’s Felicity Johnson carded an eight-under-par 65 to claim a two-shot lead over America’s Kim Kaufman, Canada’s Anne-Catherine Tanguay and Australia’s Su Oh.
Women’s British Open champion Georgia Hall is five shots off the lead after a 70, with Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew carding a 72 and Charley Hull returning a level-par 73.
Rickie Fowler somehow survived a rollercoaster final round to claim his fifth PGA Tour title and a first for two years in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Fowler looked set to squander a five-shot lead with just eight holes to play when he chipped into the water on the 11th and then, after taking a penalty drop and walking away to survey his next shot, saw his ball roll back into the hazard.
After a discussion with PGA Tour rules official Slugger White, that meant another penalty drop and in the end Fowler did remarkably well to chip to 15 feet and hole the putt for a demoralising triple-bogey seven.
It was no surprise that the 30-year-old also bogeyed the next and found himself a shot behind a charging Branden Grace, but Fowler drew level with a birdie on the 15th before it was Grace’s turn to implode by driving into the water on the short par-four 17th.
Grace compounded the error by chipping into a greenside bunker and did well to salvage a bogey, but Fowler then drove the green on the same hole and two-putted from 55 feet for a decisive birdie.
A par on the last gave Fowler a closing 74 and a two-shot victory over Grace, with world number Justin Thomas a shot further back after a round of 72.
Fowler, who had also double-bogeyed the fifth hole, told Sky Sports: “It was a bit of a rollercoaster, but other than two holes I felt like it was a decent round of golf considering the conditions.
“I did a decent job of getting past the two holes which cost us five shots today. A bad break with the ball rolling back into the water but we moved on and that’s what’s nice about having a cushion after 54 holes, it allows you to make mistakes. You don’t have to be perfect.
“So to step up and play the way I did the last four or five holes was nice.
“I have been in this position a lot and know it can go the right way or the wrong way. At the end of the day winning is amazing, but there are a lot bigger things in life. If I hadn’t won today the sun is still going to rise tomorrow. That was a calming factor.”