Ex-WNMU star Hill qualifies for next week’s U.S. Open

The past month has been quite the ride for Calum Hill, a former Western New Mexico University golf standout turned asssistant coach.

On May 11, the 23-year-old Scotland native earned his master’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in management information systems. On the golf course, he grabbed the second and final qualifying spot at the U.S. Open local qualifier at New Mexico State University Golf Course on May 14.

And, then the big news came on Monday. Well, he created the news.

Hill qualified for next week’s 118th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y.

He shot 7-under-par 135 to finish as the co-medalist at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J., where he grabbed one of the five qualifying spots to play in the U.S. Open.

“It’s been a roller coaster that keeps getting better,” said Hill, who finished tied for third, one stroke from going into a playoff at the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Open on May 24. “It’s been fun.”

Hill definitely had fun during his first visit to New Jersey on Monday. He’s also never been to New York. He leaves Sunday for the Big Apple.

He collected six birdies in his final round at Canoe Brook, including on the par-5 18th hole to finish tied for first.

“I am just super excited to get out there on the (Shinnecock Hills) course,” Hill said. “There’s other Scottish guys who got in and it will be nice to see them. I’m excited to see what it’s like on the big stage. I’m obviously very happy to make it through with a good achievement.”

Hill said this is the biggest tournament he will have played in.

“It wouldn’t be fair to say another is this important,” he said.

He’s played in some pretty big ones. He finished runner-up in the 2016 NCAA Division II Championship as a senior.

At Western New Mexico, it could be said Hill was on top of the hill.

He is the all-time scoring leader for WNMU and closed out his brilliant four-year career with a 73.13 average over 141 rounds (also a school record). Hill is familiar with the WNMU golfer he passed on that all-time scoring list: Scott Crichton.

Hill grew up near Kinross in Scotland, and also near where Crichton grew up.

Hill started playing golf shortly after he learned to walk, always wanting to beat his father, Neil. He also dreamed of playing college golf in America. When the time came for him to decide where to play, he looked at WNMU because Crichton had so much success there.

“I wasn’t a superb player, or excelled as much when I played on a national developing squad (as a junior golfer) in Scotland,” Hill said.

Hill admits he doesn’t really hit the ball that long, but he can hit it straight. That’s why he’s excited to play at Shinnecock, which challenges players to land on the narrow fairways.

Hill actually arrived at WNMU as a walk-on. As a freshman he entered with an academic scholarship at the NCAA Division II school.

“We saw that he had some good results as a junior golfer — played well, but not many events,” WNMU coach Kent Beatty said. “The first two years (at WNMU), he just learned how to play golf. The last two years he was just a machine. I can’t take a lot of credit for someone who hits it as straight as Calum does, but he learned so much the first two years.”

Hill also gained a different perspective during his recently completed two-year stint as WNMU assistant coach.

“Coaching definitely helps your game, definitely with course management,” Hill said. “I was getting to see what should be done, how mistakes can be avoided. It opens your eyes. It is critical.”

Hill, a two-time Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year, is now staying in Phoenix. He plans to return to Phoenix after the U.S. Open and then move back to Scotland, where he will prepare for European Tour Q School in September.

Initially, he was set to play at the sectional qualifier at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England. But Hill said that the qualifier was for mostly European Tour players, and there wasn’t enough room for him. He was told to play in New Jersey instead.

“I guess it all worked out,” Hill said.

Beatty said he was glued to live scoring online during the sectional qualifier. He also said Hill was in good hands because Hill’s caddy was WNMU teammate Harry Wetton, who also surpassed Crichton and is No. 2 on the all-time scoring list at 73.35.

Beatty said he was proud and happy for Hill to qualify for the U.S. Open. Beatty will leave for New York on Tuesday.

Many in the Sun Country PGA section are also happy for Hill.

“Calum Hill is a stud,” said Pat Gavin, president of the Sun Country PGA section. “The Sun Country PGA is excited to see what the future holds for him. Not only is he a great golfer, he is one of the most friendly and courteous individuals you can meet.”

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