In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Calum Hill talks about deciding to become a professional golfer, mentors in the game, and winning for the first time.
I didn’t actually anticipate playing professional golf when I was growing up. I started playing when I was about three with my dad and grandad, and got my first handicap when I was ten, but I wouldn’t say I was all that impressive as a junior.
I played in one of the Scottish development squads, which basically meant I got coaching once every two weeks and I had that all the way through as a junior and then county coaching, but I never got selected for the Scotland squad. It’s nice now to have a group of guys that are out here around the same age and there are a few of us who have tasted a bit of success and motivate each other, but I didn’t really know the Scottish guys that well until I first came out here on Tour.
I wasn’t really planning or thinking about professional golf until the final semester of my senior year of college. I played quite well and decided I wanted to give it a try. When I went out to America I went there on an academic scholarship, because I wasn’t quite good enough for the golf ones, or they didn’t have any golf ones left. I played quite good my first year and ended up being awarded a golf scholarship after that, so I kept both of those going my whole college career. It’s funny though how things work out, because if I hadn’t gone to Western and had my college coach, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.
Things probably changed in my mind after I had a really good final semester. I was planning on doing my Masters and being the assistant coach there for two more years, but my college coach suggested I join the Sun Country PGA. I was able to get in there and not work in a pro shop, so that was a massive advantage because I was able to practice a lot with the team while I competed in State Opens – and I won a couple of those.
I went to Q-School for what is now the Korn Ferry Tour after my first year, but I failed the first stage, so decided that during the second year of my Masters I’ll just keep playing the State Opens. I did well, and then towards graduation I qualified for the U.S Open at Shinnecock through both the local and regional stages. I made the cut and through that I signed with my management company; Bounce, who helped me with invitations to the Challenge Tour in 2018.
Everything happened so quickly, and I ended up winning on my fifth invite on the Challenge Tour. It was great. When I won I’d been playing so well and I was riding the confidence of winning other things that I really just took it in my stride and assumed I’d do well the rest of the season. I think when it all happened so quickly, I wasn’t really prepared or aware of how difficult that Tour is, and I just assumed I would get a European Tour card. It didn’t work out the way I thought it would with the 12/13 events I had left that season, so it was definitely a bit of a realisation for me.
It took until about June the next season for something to click, and I had a really good run of probably three or four months of really good golf until November, so I knew I was going to make it – and it just became about finishing as high as I could to put myself in the best position to qualify for bigger events on Tour. I ended up graduating in second, and it was a really gratifying feeling of accomplishing a goal I’d been aiming for.
Last year felt like a bit of a learning year, because I was on the European Tour for the first time. It was a strange first year with everything that happened, and I had a bit of a slow year, but I think one positive is that it did give me a bit of freedom and ability to go and learn all of the courses and new places without much stress.
I also started with my coach Dave Burns, and we went through some pretty big changes with my swing. I actually met him in Abu Dhabi last year for the first time and he helped me out on the range there, and then again in Dubai before I played a few events and then Covid hit. In the first part of lockdown I went to America for 90 days, but when I came back before the Tour kicked off again that was when we really started to work together. I met him almost every day at Gleneagles, which wasn’t too far for either of us, and we both put in a lot of work. It’s obviously progressing and we still have a lot of work to do but yeah, it took a while to get comfortable and get rid of a really bad miss. I’m just glad it’s paid dividends.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of what it actually means to get my first win on the European Tour a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t really overcome with emotion, but instead it was a combination of feeling like the hard work I’ve put in paid off after so many chances throughout the year, and it fuelling my motivation and focus to push on from there.
I was just so focused on not repeating what had happened the week before, and I put a lot of things I thought I did wrong at Fairmont into action at the London Club. Thankfully it worked really well! I felt like I had a lot of chances throughout the year in the last couple of groups, but at the Fairmont it was the first time that I had started really well and put myself in really good spot. I think I just got ahead of myself mentally and what I was feeling. After six holes I was in control and mentally I had my hands on the trophy so I relaxed, stopped focusing on the end goal and got a little more chatty with my playing partners. Once that happened and I eased off my focus, that’s where I let a couple of mistakes slip in.
I reflected a lot on that day. On the Saturday night before I won, I spoke to David and my college coach in America as well, just explaining all of those things. It was nice to have my college coach’s input, because he’s someone who has had a huge impact on me and my game, and we are still quite close. They both agreed that I needed to keep that focus, so I tried really hard to concentrate the whole round at the London Club. I had a really good last 11 holes and managed to get it done, so it showed how important my attitude was out there.
I hope it’s just a small step in a career long process, and I’m grateful that it’s put me in a great spot for next year. I’m trying to follow the success of people like Bob MacIntyre and Victor Perez, who are both guys I played with on the Challenge Tour in 2018. Just seeing what they’ve done, and how quickly they’ve done it, is hugely motivating because it gives you an example of what can be done. It gives you something to push towards. So for me, what comes with everything I’ve done so far is more important than what I’ve done to get there. Climbing inside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Rankings and up the Race to Dubai is important to get to where I want in the game, and if I can keep doing what I’m doing now my next target would be that top 70 area to get into bigger, worldwide events. I’m not a big lister or writer of goals I want to accomplish, but that’s probably the next place I’d like to go.