Dubai teen Josh Hill picks out positives from Abu Dhabi display despite disappointing end

17-year-old amateur struggles on final day at Yas Links, but departs having had superb week

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 20: Josh Hill of England tees off on the seventh hole during the First Round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Yas Links Golf Course on January 20, 2022 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images)
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Visibly irked by his final day’s play around Yas Links, at first Josh Hill needed a little cajoling to acknowledge the high points of a week that should live long in memory.

Even if the Dubai-born teenager's finish at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship was not how he'd planned. On the whole, there was without doubt plenty to be extremely proud of.

A first cut made on Europe's lead circuit, in only his third appearance. A huge rally in his second round - three birdies in his last four holes - to become the first UAE-born player to qualify for all four days' play in Abu Dhabi. Going 5-under through the closing five holes of Round 3.

So Sunday's 3-over par 75, which included five bogeys and two birdies to leave Hill on the same number for the tournament and in a tie for 58, in no way ruined a remarkable week's work.

“I mean, I'll go home tonight and watch the Arsenal game and probably be thinking about the round and shouting at the TV,” Hill said. “But I’ll be thinking about the positives where I’ve learned a lot and I've gained a lot out of it, and how can I improve going into the next two weeks.

“So even though I'm disappointed right now, I know, in five or six hours’ time, I'm going to be quite happy and already reflecting on some lessons that I can take into the next few weeks.”

The next fortnight comprises a second outing at the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic – Hill played there two years ago - and a debut at the Saudi International, the new flagship event on the Asian Tour.

Once the dust from Abu Dhabi settles, Hill will go into those safe in the knowledge that, at age 17 and while still an amateur, he is a lot more at ease in these rarefied environs.

“Yeah, I'm quite lucky in that respect,” said Hill, who two years ago missed the cut on European Tour debut in Abu Dhabi. “I think compared to last time, I was a lot more comfortable this week.

“The best thing was finishing like that [on Saturday] to make the cut and then going out in the afternoon and shooting a good number. There are positives.

"I had a terrible front nine on Friday, had a bad day today. Missed quite a few putts in the first round and made some silly mistakes yesterday. Today, I short-sided myself way too many times. And you look at that and, even though I've had a lot of good golf during the week, I had some bad golf and still to be able to play four rounds and beat some quality players is good.

"I think I'll take away that I never thought, apart from the back nine yesterday, I was in full flow and I was still able to beat some good players.”

Hill, who has been weighing up whether his long-term future entails turning pro or first taking the college route in the United States – “I’m not short of offers, but will make a decision soon” – did just that.

The names below on the final leaderboard include world No 2, two-time major winner and current Race to Dubai champion Collin Morikawa, rising DP World Tour star Nicolai Hojgaard, 2019 European rookie of the year Robert Macintyre, and 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett.

Asked to select his biggest takeaway of the week, Hill first cited the learning to accept better the poor shots, or the minimising of mistakes. Yet those did not rank No 1.

“That I can compete,” he said. “As I said, I never felt fully I was playing good golf, but I was able to grind it out and compete with these guys. So going into next week, that’s going to give me a good confidence boost and knowing that, even if I'm struggling, I can still play with these guys."

Updated: January 23, 2022, 2:20 PM