On a search for the next UAE pro golfers

Young players are starting to venture outside the country to play in tournaments to test their skills. William Johnson reports on the obstacles and successes of the national team's young golfers.

Saeed al Budoor, the general manager of the UAE Golf Association, believes significant progress is being made towards nurturing and delivering a player into the professional ranks - not surprising in an area with quality facilities and a climate that is conducive to golf almost year-round.

"It is not impossible for us to have an Emirati professional before much longer," al Budoor said. "But the players themselves have to be more dedicated. "They have a mindset where they go to school and then leave the country to pursue further education. We have to change that perception. We live in a country where sport is still regarded as an amateur pursuit. "We have to alter their mentality to let them know that sport could become their career."

The key, he said, is for players to refine their skills here before venturing out. "The sky is the limit for any Emirati who can get to the stage of turning pro," he said. "But they have to win trophies here first. If they can't win tournaments here, how are they going to win overseas? "We have to educate them into the belief that if you are ready, this is going to be your professional career." Khalid Yousuf, 19, is considered the UAE's best golfer and is the key man in the national team that competes in the Eisenhower Trophy and other international events.

Yousuf, who has appeared by invitation in the Dubai Desert Classic, plays to a handicap of three and spends most of his time either at Emirates Golf Club or the adjacent American University in Dubai, where he is in his second year of pursuing a degree in finance. "I am not thinking about the possibility of turning professional at the moment because completing my studies is my current priority," he said. "But there is definitely a possibility in the future.

"You can turn pro any time as long as you are good enough. I am going to make every effort to keep my game at least at the level that it is now." Yousuf believes an Emirati will join the professional ranks one day, even if it is not him. He spoke of several promising young golfers and named the Musharrekh brothers- Abdullah, Ahmed and Hassan - as the most likely to attain prominence. Ahmed, who plays mostly at Dubai Creek and has a handicap of one, is desperate to turn professional one day. He went to the Asian Tour Qualifying School in January but found the standard there beyond his capabilities.

"I like occasionally to step outside my comfort zone, but this was too far outside," he said. "But the feedback you get from attending that kind of event is amazing and can only benefit me in the future." In the same month, he became the first Emirati to play in the European Tour's Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, taking advantage of a wildcard berth. His rounds of 77 and 71 left him five shots above the cut, but he scored better than European Tour veteran Damien Magrane and only two shots behind Miguel-Angel Jimenez, a three-time Ryder Cup player who won the Dubai Desert Classic two weeks later.

Ahmed, 19, plans to have another crack at Qualifying School, either for the European Tour (in Spain in September) or the Asian Tour (in Thailand in January). "I feel we've got the capabilities now in this country to produce a professional golfer one day," he said. "My elder brother, Abdullah, gave it a go but came to the conclusion it was not for him. Hassan, my younger brother, is still only 16 but he is already beginning to think about the possibilities.

"If we don't make it then there are a bunch of juniors coming through who could go all the way one day." Al Budoor was pleased that Ahmed al Musharrekh made his Asian Tour challenge. "OK, he didn't make it but he tried," he said. "He and his brothers are working hard to make an impact and that is encouraging." The golf association leader is appealing for more wildcards to be made available to local golfers in the three professional tournaments in the Gulf region, which start the season on the European Tour.

"We want to see the UAE flag on the scoreboard and it doesn't matter for the time being if that flag is at the bottom of the scoreboard," he said. "It's a wildcard we are using and there is nothing wrong with asking for that. We are a young country so we can't expect too much. The important thing is that we continue to be represented in the professional events here." Another key area in the progression of the UAE as a golfing nation is in the development of the junior game.

Al Budoor appealed to those running the five-star clubs in the region to make golf more affordable for youngsters. He said high greens fees keep juniors off these courses. "We need the support of the clubs to help us to get handicaps for the kids. They get fed up playing nine-hole par-3 competitions for six months. They need more of a challenge." al Budoor said. "It's good to get them on proper courses even if they tee off from the fairways. This is how they will get their handicaps. Junior opens are falling in numbers. They tend to attract between 30 and 45 players. We need 90 players taking part in these events.

"This is the way we are going to feed the national team. You have to have a base. We need a bigger pool of eligible players to choose from. "The existing junior team is already making some noise regarding breaking into the senior ranks. Some of them in the next few years will be in the adult team. In two or three years we should have some new faces coming through." wjohnson@thenational.ae

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