Beating Brooks Koepka already makes it a week to remember for 15-year-old Josh Hill at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Dubai-born amateur enjoys moment in spotlight after defeating world No 1 during practice round on Monday
For Josh Hill, this week has provided plenty of pinch-yourself moments already.
Aged 15, the Dubai-born amateur is down the road in the capital, about to make his European Tour debut, where on Thursday he becomes the youngest player in history to compete at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA.
The build-up’s been top, too. There was Monday’s practice round with golf’s current world No 1. There was beating golf’s current world No 1 in an eight-hole competition, during said practice round.
Then on Tuesday, there was the world No 1 praising to international media not only Hill’s game, but his maturity as well. To his credit, the world No 1 said, he asked plenty of questions.
And to cap it all, the world No 1, a four-time major champion named Brooks Koepka, admitting that, at 15, his game “wasn't as far along as Josh's”.
That’s pretty “wow”. Or as Hill says, with typical teenage understatement, “kind of nice to hear”.
“It was good,” the Englishman said of his time with Koepka, arranged last week between Joe Marshall, Hill's coach at Dubai’s Claude Harmon III Performance Golf Academy, and Harmon himself, Koepka's mentor.
“I was a bit nervous at the start, but obviously learned a lot. I don’t think Brooks was playing quite to what he would in a tournament – I wasn’t either – but it’s still nice to say you’ve beaten the world No 1.
“On average, I was driving it 10 yards behind him, but I put it past him on [hole] five and nine. So I can officially say I’ve out-driven the world No 1, at least once.”
Since, Hill’s been inundated with media requests, something he seems to be taking in his stride. Not only that; enjoying it.
“I don’t mind it; it doesn’t take up much time,” he says. “You can get your practice done, do the interviews, go home and rest. It doesn’t really bother me. It’s usually practicing every day, walking home and not talking to anyone, so it’s relaxing. It's been nice.”
Hill’s star has been on the rise for some time. In October, he triumphed at the Mena Tour’s Al Ain Open, displacing one-time Japanese prodigy Ryo Ishikawa in the record books as the youngest winner of an Official World Golf Ranking event.
Hill went on the take the circuit’s amateur Order of Merit, and with it sealed a place at next week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
To keep the good times rolling, he emerged victorious from last month’s Abu Dhabi Amateur Championship, earning his European Tour debut, alongside Koepka and Co.
Not bad, all in all, for someone yet to complete his GCSEs. European Tour golfer or not, the online-schooled student will hit the books again immediately following the Classic.
“Yeah, unfortunately,” Hill says, eyes rolling. “I’m allowed by my parents –well, I don’t know if I’m allowed, but I’ll say that I am – to not concentrate on that these next two weeks.
"After that, it’s pretty much full-on with studying and then a tiny bit of golf. And hopefully once I pass them, concentrate on golf.”
Without doubt, golf’s the focus this week. For the first two rounds, Hill plays alongside Charl Schwartzel and Mattias Schwab, a Masters champion and one of the game’s brightest young professionals, respectively.
He will be in good company, both inside the ropes and out, with friends and family cheering him on. Hill’s grandparents, who live in Spain, are visiting at the moment.
But he doesn’t expect the partisans or the pressure to get to him. “I’ve just got to concentrate on the golf, really,” Hill says. “I can’t worry about what everybody else is doing around me. Just when I get on that first tee to when I get off, try as hard as I can and see where that leaves me.
“It should be a great experience. I actually feel more comfortable than I thought I would. I thought I’d turn up and everybody’d be looking at me thinking ‘What are you doing here?’. But they’ve just said really nice things. So can’t wait for Thursday."
And a few more days after that, even if until now has been even better than hoped.
"Yeah, the week's just going up and up," Hill says. "I just hope it keeps going up on Thursday and Friday … and Saturday-Sunday."
Updated: January 14, 2020 07:19 PM