'It’s hard to imagine': Meet the Dubai teenager ready to take on the stars at the Omega Dubai Moonlight Classic
Chiara Noja, 14, on practising alongside Lydia Ko, chewing the fat with Celine Boutier, and a whirlwind few weeks since relocating to the Emirates
As if making your Ladies European Tour debut this week, at the grand old age of 14, wasn't amazing enough already, Chiara Noja has enjoyed a few more pinch-yourself moments on site this week.
“Yesterday I hit balls next to Lydia Ko and I just went crazy,” the Dubai-based amateur tells The National on the eve of Wednesday's first round at the Omega Dubai Moonlight Classic. “I just thought, ‘What is this?’ It’s hard to imagine.”
Patently real, Noja didn't quite pluck up the courage to speak to the former world No 1, two-time major champion, since she’s “a very shy human being”. However, she did spend time at Emirates Golf Club on Monday chewing the fat with Celine Boutier, having been introduced to the Solheim Cup player by tournament director Simon Corkill.
“It was very cool,” Noja says. “She was so nice.”
It just so happens that Ko and Boutier represent two of the golfers Noja looked up to most as she built an incredibly impressive plus-5 handicap golf game. She took up the sport aged three in her native Germany, although didn’t start playing “properly” until she got her first set of clubs - at four.
Other inspirations include the Korda sisters – “especially Nelly, she’s a very composed player” - and Tiger Woods - “of course, you can’t really choose anyone else” - but with neither Nelly or Jessica in Dubai this week, Noja is more than happy among what is regardless a stellar field.
As mentioned, there’s Ko and Boutier, while world No 9 Minjee Lee is in town for the three-day, floodlight-lit event, as are some of Europe’s leading lights, including major champion Georgia Hall and Charley Hull.
“It’s just crazy because you only hear of these players in magazines or online or on your TV. And now it’s seeing them in real person,” Noja says. “I’m standing on the roof and can see all the players on the range right now.”
From Wednesday through to what she hopes will be Friday, Noja will be standing next to some of the most prominent players in golf. And it all came about unbelievably quickly.
Just a few weeks ago, Noja relocated to the UAE with her family, a move delayed by the pandemic after her mum accepted a job this summer working at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
So Noja sent in her CV to Corkill, more in hope than expectation, and to her surprise soon received the brilliant news: she’d been handed a sponsor’s invite. At the time at grandma’s house in Germany, it took a little while to sink in.
“At first I was like, ‘OK, right, I’m playing in the Moonlight Classic’,” Noja says. “And five minutes after the call ended I just went berserk. I was shocked. I didn’t really expect to get in, thought I’d try but probably won’t.
“And when I did get the invite I was so excited. I just couldn’t imagine playing with the likes of Lydia Ko or Charley Hull. It’s just crazy. Grandma didn’t really understand what was happening.”
Since then, even the non-golfing members of the family have marvelled at the pictures sent back of Noja with the Dubai Marina in the background, or with the on-course, Omega-branded signboards within shot.
“The support has been incredible,” Noja says. “It’s just an exciting time.”
That extends to the new life only beginning in the Emirates. Although born in Berlin, and then raised in Karlsruhe to the south of Germany, Noja moved to England in 2013 and plays under the English flag.
However, with the winters there not necessarily conducive to honing an evident golf talent, the Nojas looked to Dubai. A combination of world-class courses and practice facilities, night golf, and the calibre of British schools to continue her education, made the emirate an obvious choice.
Principally, Noja will play and practice at The Els Club, and will choose a second course once a permanent house has been found, rather than the rented apartment they currently reside in near the Trade Centre.
A school, too, has almost been settled upon. Not surprisingly, the likely candidate has a suitable golf programme.
But first things first, it’s the Ladies European Tour debut, aged 14, on the “stunning” Faldo Course. Noja has played it about five times, including once this week with Peter Finch, the renowned golf-content creator and the “sweetest guy ever”.
Finch has amassed more than half a million followers across social media, and on Tuesday was to post a video of his round with Noja. So, another pinch-yourself moment.
“I had a really, really good time,” she says. “I think it was also good just because it prepared me a little bit better for the tournament, for that feeling of having someone watching you or cameras around you.
“Of course I’m nervous, but most of all I’m really excited. I’m just really, really looking to it. I can’t believe I’ve got the opportunity to play in a competition like this. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, just because I won’t be 14 ever again.”
Updated: November 3, 2020 08:21 PM