Hill takes lead at Amateur

JOHN HERBERT -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

PORT STANLEY -- Bright's Grove teenager Graham Hill met idol Mike Weir just once, shaking hands with the PGA Tour star eight years ago at Huron Oaks Golf Club.

Tonight they could have much more in common.

The 19-year-old Hill, who like Weir started golfing at Huron Oaks, is in excellent position to win the Investors Ontario Amateur this afternoon at Redtail Golf Course. If he does, his name will be engraved on the Gary Cowan Trophy alongside that of Weir, who won the provincial title in both 1990 and 1992.

"I haven't thought about that at all," Hill said of the prospect of becoming the second Bright's Grove player to win the Amateur. "I'm just focusing on all the golf shots. It would be something I'd reflect on after, if it happened, because I really look up to Mike Weir. I like the way he plays, his character and I always watch him on TV."

Hill shot a four-under-par 68 yesterday, the lowest score of the day at Redtail.

After three rounds of the 72-hole championship, Hill has a nine-under-par score of 207 and a four-stroke lead over another 19-year-old, Will Mitchell of Whitby. Sean Lafontaine of Cobourg is third at four under. Defending champ Andrew Parr shot a shocking 80 and is 11 strokes out of the lead.

"I got Redtailed," the obviously disappointed 22-year-old London golfer said. "I got bad breaks, I hit into bad places and I seemed to wind up in all the wrong places. That's what can happen at Redtail."

Parr dropped all the way down the leaderboard to a tie for 13th place with scores of 71-67-80--218.

All eyes were on Parr at the start of the round but attention quickly shifted to playing partner Hill. He put on a spectacular display, hitting perfect shot after perfect shot for almost the entire round.

Many in the gallery following Hill, Parr and Patrick Forbes said Hill could easily have shot 64 or 65.

Hill said it was as good as he has played all season, which is saying a lot.

Before coming to Redtail, Hill won the Brantford men's 36-hole invitation, finished second at the London Hunt men's invitation, was fifth at the 36-hole tournament at the National Golf Club in Toronto and finished second by a shot in the Sarnia 36-hole men's invitation, losing to his brother Matt, 16.

Matt Hill is also in the Ontario Amateur and doing well. He shot 74 yesterday and is six over for the tournament.

Graham says his family lives "right around the corner" from where Mike Weir grew up. Like Weir, Graham Hill began hitting balls at Huron Oaks when he was about nine, hanging around the pro shop and helping pro Steve Bennett. Bennett was Weir's coach as a junior.

Now, Hill plays his golf at the Sarnia Golf and Curling Club and works in the back shop.

Hill said Weir wouldn't remember their meeting in a crowd at the Mike Weir-Dino Ciccarelli Charity Classic. He is hoping to meet his hero on July 30, when Weir is inducted into Sarnia's sports hall of fame.

The first meeting eight years ago still means a lot, he said.

"He just shook my hand and asked my name," he said.

The brothers -- Matt and Graham -- have been tearing up Southwestern Ontario courses for several years in Tyson Tour events. While Graham has graduated to men's events, Matt is still a junior.

Already this year, he has won the Sarnia men's tournament and the Sarnia junior invitation, shooting a career-best score of 64. A student at Sarnia Northern, he also won the OFSSA championship in June, shooting 73-70 at Ingersoll and St. Thomas.

He said while he is competitive with his brother and often fights with him on the course, he was inspired to hear he was nine under par at Redtail.

"That's awesome," Matt said.

He says Weir is also an inspiration to him. "For sure."

Matt Hill said the Weir effect has had a major impact on junior golf in Sarnia, where more than 125 play at Sarnia Golf and Curling Club.

"We have tons of good juniors in Sarnia," he said.

While it appears Parr's reign could end today, he won't give up without a fight.

"It's pretty disappointing," he said. "I hit a lot of mediocre shots, then I couldn't stop the bleeding (when he made a string of bogeys on the front nine for 41). I can't control what he (Hill) does. Obviously what I need to do tomorrow is shoot a course record. I'm not going to be playing for second place."

The top four finishers today will form Ontario's Willingdon Cup team for interprovincial matches next month at the Canadian Amateur.

Graham Hill, Mitchell and Lafontaine will be in the last group at 10:40 a.m. Tickets are on sale at the Redtail gates.


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