Emirati Ahmad Skaik has the honour on Wednesday of hitting the first tee shot at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC), one of the world’s foremost amateur golf tournaments.
The event, which takes place at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club from Wednesday to Saturday, marks the fourth time Skaik will be competing in the tournament. His last appearance was in China in 2019.
Since then, Skaik has twice contested the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and also played in the Golf in Dubai Championship – both are European Tour events - on sponsor’s invite. The UAE’s No 1 golfer, he is one of four nationals playing this week. The winner this week receives an invite to the 2022 Masters at Augusta and the 150th Open Championship, played next year at St Andrews.
Previous winners of the AAC include two-time champion Hideki Matsuyama. The Japanese star won his first title in 2010 – in his homeland - and successfully defended the following year, becoming the first player to do so. Matsuyama is the reigning US Masters champion.
You have the honour of getting things under way on the opening day of this year’s tournament. How does that feel?
I’m pretty happy about it. It is an honour to host the tournament and hitting the opening ball of the entire tournament is even better. I’m just excited to get going and it is good to go out first. It is my second tournament in six months so let’s see how it goes.
How is your form going into the tournament?
My form has not been that amazing, unfortunately. I am a student, and for the past three weeks I have mostly been studying [International Relations], and I have one more semester after this one. I’m doing my capstone project, so there is a lot required off the course, lots of assignments that are keeping me away from golf. I was injured as well for four months and managed no golf, so I’m just happy to get going overall.
How do you find the Creek course yourself?
For me, it is getting better. I used to struggle on it for some reason, but I have been putting pretty well and more confident on the greens and that makes me much more positive in general and so I’m not so stressed – I know I can make an up-and-down. I usually hit draws, but the course suits the fade more so I just play the fade more to eliminate any problem areas.
Your last time at the AAC was a missed cut at Sheshan. What are your thoughts on that tournament?
That week I really struggled off the tee, and on that course the rough was very thick, so you had to chip out sideways or 50 yards forward max. So that meant having 240-yard third shots on the par 5, with water to carry. It was a rough week - literally with all the rough I was playing out from.
How does it feel to be competing with the best Asian and Pacific region amateurs out there?
It really is a challenge, and for me it is very good to see these guys and then see how I compare, and where my game is at. Because of university restrictions, I don’t get to travel much at the moment. A tournament like this drives me and helps me to maintain my focus and stay positive next semester, while I hope to move from part-time to full-time in golf.
So you are hoping to turn pro after university?
Yes, I have to be realistic about my golf. In the next year or two I will be free to travel and play wherever I want to and that’s something that is exciting, something to look forward to.
2021 Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama won the AAC twice previously. Does this give the amateurs hope that they are on the right track?
It is an inspiration for the entire field lining up this week. To know that he won the tournament twice in a row and then went on to do what he did at the Masters, that’s something very special – we can all take some confidence from that.