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Josh Hill claims Middle East Championship by six shots

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30 March 2018

Al Ain, United Arab Emirates (March 30): Josh Hill claimed a marvellous six-shot victory in the Middle East Championship at Al Ain Equestrian Shooting & Golf Club. The Englishman – who turned 14 on the first day of competition - held off the challenges of Welshman Toby Bishop and Arjun Gupta of India.

 Overall winner Josh Hill commented: ‘Although I didn’t drive too great my short-game was on form and that’s what delivered an important win. I’m on a roll; I’ve won six out the last seven tournaments so it’s good to keep the run going. The Faldo Series Asia Grand Final was a great experience and a great course in Laguna Lang Co and I’m keen to go back as soon as possible. AESGC is a great venue, love the course where the conditions were perfect.’

The Faldo Series Middle East Championship has long been an important date in the calendar but the event took on increased significance this week as Sir Nick Faldo recently announced the AESGC venue would host the Faldo Series Europe Grand Final for another four years. The announcement marks a notable moment for junior golf in the Middle East and a huge positive for the young golfers who participate in the Faldo Series.

This backdrop of additional pressure made Hill’s assault on the scoring all the more impressive as the 14-year old fired scores of 69, 65 and a scintillating 62 on the highly regarded Championship course at AESGC. The birdie-fest left Hill with a total of 196 – fourteen shots under Par. Although the field oozed with class it was little surprise none could keep up with a superb performance from the on-fire Hill.

The Boys’ Under 16 division contained a rich reserve of talent and skill. Bishop and Gupta played extraordinarily well to finish eight-under Par and were only denied by the magic of Hill. Indian Krishiv Tekchandani also performed very well to finish one under after three days and will have been shocked to finish fourth in a category with such great scoring – a mark of the brilliant standard in Al Ain.

The Boys’ Under 18 category was claimed by Faldo Series veteran Mikkel Mathiesen of Denmark. The talented Dane controlled his division with scores of 69, 71 and 70. His rounds were notable in containing very few errors and he will take great confidence from his play this week. Mathiesen’s discipline is rewarded with a return to a Faldo Series Europe Grand Final in November– his second appearance. 

Areksh Bhatia of India also enjoyed a comprehensive division win. Bhatia is another who has proven himself in prior Faldo Series Championships. Bhatia called upon his experience to card 74, 73 and 67 and win in fine style. Like Hill and Mathiesen, Bhatia will also now head to his second European Grand Final. 

Natalii Gupta started day the final day three shots back from Korean Hyeonji Kang in the Girls’ division but a scorching 66 from the young Indian turned the tables. Gupta’s scorecard read 76, 74 and 66 and she will be extremely pleased with her last day in particular. An Eagle on the 510 yard Par 5 seventh hole set the platform and she found a further three birdies to claim a noted triumph and a place in her first Grand Final.

The second Girls place was filled by Billie-jo Smith of England who held off the Kenyan challenge of Kellie Kachaga by four shots. Smith’s overnight advantage was just a single shot and indeed it was not until the back nine on the final day that Smith eeked out the margin that would eventually seal her place in her first Grand Final. Her final tally was 217 after scores of 74, 73 and 70 at AESGC. 

Off the course the players benefited from time with Faldo’s personal coach Keith Wood. Keith assisted the players and conducted clinics for the duration of the week. AESGC also ran a clinic for schoolchildren local to Al-Ain. The clinic is a component of the tireless work AESGC and the Faldo Series has embarked upon to grow golf in the region.

Today, 40 Faldo Series tournaments take place in 30-plus countries worldwide, touching thousands of golfers each year. Past winners include Major Champions Tseng Ya-ni and Rory McIlroy, who took his tally of professional Major titles to four with his wins at the 2014 Open Championship and US PGA Championship.

Leading final scores:

Boys’ Under-21:

214 – Arkesh Bhatia (IND) 74-73-67

227 – Abdulla Al Qubaisi (UAE) 74-76-77

Boys’ Under-18:

210 – Mikkel Mathiesen (DEN) 69-70-71

216 – Shash Sparacino (ITA) 75-69-72

Boys’ Under-16:

214 – Josh Hill (ENG) 69-65-62

202 – Toby Bishop (WAL) 70-66-66, Arjun Gupta (IND) 70-66-66

Girls’ Under-21:

216 – Natalii Gupta (IND) 76-74-66

217– Billie-Jo Smith (ENG) 74-73-70

221 – Kellie Gachaga (KEN) 74-74-73