You can find many things in golf. Whether it’s a little bit of magic here or a heck of a lot of madness there, this grand old game never fails to enthral, enrage, inspire and infuriate. And that’s just on the practice putting green. The one thing you’ll never find, of course, is perfection. As the great Bobby Jones observed many moons ago, “no-one will ever have golf under his thumb.”
Try telling that to the increasingly impressive Scottish golfer Calum Hill. Well, his coach, David Burns, has. “He is a perfectionist, and that’s great, but there has to be realism,” said Burns. “I’ve told him that even if you had a long successful career there will probably only be a handful of events when you can genuinely say you were completely happy with all aspects of your game.”
In this inherently imperfect game, Hill’s endless quest for golfing perfection may make the search for the Holy Grail look like a quick rummage in the frozen food aisle at Lidl in comparison but the Kirkcaldy-born player’s lofty standards, drive and discipline remain admirable traits.
Last weekend, the 26-year-old shared fourth behind world No 1 Dustin Johnson at the Saudi International in a field that was so star-studded, it could’ve featured in the signs of the Zodiac. It was Hill’s best ever finish on the European Tour and one which earned the three-time Challenge Tour winner a cheque for almost £114,000.
“Calum was saying afterwards that there were a couple of things he could’ve done better,” added Burns. “I said ‘this is not a few club golfers who have beaten you’. The only three ahead of him were Johnson, Tony Finau and Justin Rose, world class players. He should have been sky high and, deep down, he was chuffed. But he sets himself very high standards and wants to improve. That’s a great attitude and it’s exciting to work with someone like that.”
Hill, who has made tremendous strides since turning professional in 2017, started working with Burns a year ago and the tweaks, tune-ups and titivations are bearing fruit.
“Calum always got the most out of his ability,” said Burns, who is also coach to Scotland’s No 1 Robert MacIntyre and former Ryder Cup player Stephen Gallacher. “He would be the first to admit that he’s perhaps not got the natural ability of Bob or Stevie but he more than makes up for it with real graft.
“The Covid shutdown last year was actually good for us as it allowed us to make changes that we would never have got the chance to if he was playing tournament after tournament.
“The two things we have improved are the two big ones, the driver and the putter. He didn’t flight the ball well enough with the driver. His bad shot was low and left and that was a very destructive one. It looks like we have taken that out of the bag.
“He’s mentally more mature too. You could analyse his swing and say ‘it’s nine out of ten’, but he would sometimes take that as a negative and it could erode his confidence a wee bit. A couple of shots that maybe weren’t bang on would prey on his mind
“It was that perfectionist nature again. His attitude and work ethic remains first class, though, and he just has to be less hard on himself.”
In Hill, MacIntyre and Gallacher, Burns is working with a varied, exciting triumvirate. “They’ve all got great desire,” he noted. MacIntyre, who has broken into the world’s top-50 and sits 44th, is on course for a Masters invitation as the big US opportunities now open up while Gallacher is showing signs of a resurgence at the age of 46. “Stevie’s got his mojo back and I’m confident he can have his best season for a long time,” Burns added. “His good stuff is still very good.”
Burns’ boys seem in rude health. Which is more than can be said of Burns himself lately. “I had a wee scare with pneumonia a few weeks ago,” he said. “It was a blue light job to the hospital and was like trying to breathe through a soggy straw. The performances of the lads in the Middle East over the last few weeks have helped raise the spirits.”