A birdie, birdie finish saw Joshua Hill edge to the 2022 Mullingar Scratch Trophy Sponsored by Sherry Fitzgerald/Davitt & Davitt & Pinergy in sensational circumstances on Bank Holiday Monday.
The teenager survived a back nine horror show where he carded back-to-back double bogeys to throw the championship wide open, but a pair of nerveless closing birdies saw him take the crown with a final round 78 an eight-under total.
“It should have been an easy two or three under last 18 but conditions were not ideal to say the least,” said Hill who etches his name alongside Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley.
“It’s nice to put your name beside all them definitely especially when you are trying to follow in their footsteps and turn pro and win majors and stuff. I turn 19 next Saturday so I should have some good celebrations next week.
“I felt pretty confident after the first round then the weather came and started hitting a few loose drives and all of a sudden I was a bit shaky didn’t know where they were coming from and I was trying to search for it during the round whatever was going wrong,” he added.
The Galgorm native eagled his 54th hole this morning to open up a seemingly insurmountable five-shot lead heading into the afternoon on fourteen-under, but what transpired was pure golfing theatre.
The 18-year-old turned in three-over 38 but even then only saw his lead trimmed to three shots over Luke O’Neill who in the end didn’t play a role in the trials and tribulations of the final act.
Hill certainly pulled up trees down the stretch to dig this win out of the fire, but on the par-3 12th it looked like his hopes were about to be dashed by a towering ash tree after his tee shot nestled in the top of it never to be seen again.
Despite his best efforts to retrieve his ball which included hopping on top of a buggy and stabbing at the tree with a rake, the ball that eventually fell was not his and he did very well to hole out from 8-feet for a double-bogey. If ever there was a good double, perhaps it was that.
However, there would be more drama for Hill in the at times biblical afternoon downpours as his drive on 13 came to rest on the out of bounds line down the right which lead to another double and saw him surrender his lead to Connemara’s O’Neill who had moved to –7 with a birdie on 12.
“I had a few unlucky breaks the tree one was unlucky and the next hole it bounced right and was on the line of OB, I thought those were two unlucky breaks then I checked the scores after that and saw I was still tied for the lead so I tried to get myself back into it and grind it out. I didn’t have my best stuff this afternoon.
“I just thought it was more unlucky that maybe bad as well because it was obviously really tough and it was easy to make bogeys. So I was four-over through 11 and you could argue that with the conditions it wasn’t that bad. Making those two doubles made it way too hard.”
Hill who is taking a gap year before heading to South Alabama in 2023 regained his composure with three steady pars and at one stage there was a three-way tie for the lead on six-under while defending champion TJ Ford was charging in the outside lane before his chances blew away in the wind and rain.
A bogey on the par-5 14th and a disappointing par on 18 saw O’Neill bow out before Royal Dublin’s Max Kennedy and Portmarnock’s Brandon St John announced their title credentials with fabulous finishes.
Birdies on 12 and 14 from Kennedy were followed up by a hat trick of closing birdies as he tied the clubhouse lead on –7 with St John who held out for eagle from six-feet moments earlier.
Hill ensured destiny was in his own hands after a birdie on 17 saw him regain a share of the lead and he showed courage and mental fortitude to get up and down for birdie from the downslope on 18 to take the title.
“I went up the other fairway on 17 and hit one to 35-40- feet and held it down the hill right to left I played a lot of break on it probably around ten feet, hit it dead pace and thankfully it went in to give me a chance to birdie the last.
“I knew that Max was on six and was probably going to birdie the last so I knew even going onto 18 that I needed to birdie it, then Brandon making eagle really threw him into the mix so I had to get it done, you don’t really want to go into a three-man playoff.
“I had 168 on the 18th, I think the hole is 507 it was a bit downwind. I hit 9 iron I was going to go wedge but I wanted to take the water out of play but with the adrenaline I could’ve gone pitching wedge.
“I thought it would come down onto the flat and when I saw it there I thought it would be pretty tricky but hit probably one of the best chips I’ve hit in a while.
“At least I know when I get down to the end of it I have it in me, just want to know what went wrong the first 13-14 holes to cause all that, it should have been an easy walk through 2 or three under.”
Hill was one of the form players heading into the week particularly in the absence of the Irish internationals who will compete in the Home Internationals on Wednesday. The Northern Irishman caught the eye in Lahinch last week after he flirted with a magical 59 en route to becoming the leading qualifier and he admits that gave him the confidence to score heavily this week.
“Yeah, it was good to keep the scoring going. Before that six under was my best score and then I shot 9-under on my home course going into Lahinch and 10 under there. So I thought I am on to something.
“Then going into this week, everything felt so much easier the first three rounds but I made it really difficult in that fourth round.”
This was Hill’s last hurrah for the season after he forgot to enter the Irish Close Championship in Headfort in a fortnight’s time while he has goals to earn a maiden Men’s Irish cap next year.
“Interpros next. Forgot to enter the Close. I knew this was my last event and I had to make it a special one. That was a bit stupid.
“The goal at the start of the year was to move up into men’s golf but the quality this year was really good with Matt McClean, Rob Moran and Mark Power. It was a very hard team to make this year.”
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