Teenager Musharrekh is willing to take baby steps

The UAE's leading local amateur and 19-year-old will become the first Emirati to feature in the tournament when he tees off among Major winners on Thursday.

ABU DHABI // Amid the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship's array of Major winners, Ryder Cup veterans and international players, teenager Ahmed Musharrekh will make a small piece of history this week. The UAE's leading local amateur, Musharrekh, 19, will become the first Emirati to feature in the tournament when he tees off at the National Course on Thursday.

Despite his place in what is arguably the strongest field of the three regional "Gulf Swing" tournaments, Musharrekh, who could be grouped with defending champion Paul Casey or Race to Dubai winner Lee Westwood, insisted he will not be overwhelmed when the first tee announcer bellows his name into local folklore. "I don't really think about that stuff, it doesn't matter too much," said Musharrekh. "My family will be there and they'll be very happy but what matters most to me personally is making the cut."

To play all four days, Musharrekh will have to out-score a who's who of the European Tour's best players, as well as PGA representatives Anthony Kim and Camillo Villegas. Far from daunted, Musharrekh sees the opportunity to rub shoulders with the game's leading players as an important step in his development. "I'll be happy to play with anyone in the top 30 of the world rankings," said Musharrekh. "It would be a great challenge if that happens and I would welcome the nerves and butterflies; that's why I play golf, to feel the pressure and do the best that I can."

Having missed two cuts last week - an Asian Tour qualifying event in Thailand and Sunday's Dubai Desert Classic qualifier on the Emirates Golf Club's Majlis course - Musharrekh dismissed the notion his form is wilting ahead of a European Tour debut. He blamed those two poor rounds on wayward putting and said he is looking to repeat past performances at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. "My best competitive round on the National is even par but I've shot lower in practice," said Musharrekh. "The pro tees will be a little further back but it shouldn't make that much difference. It's all about baby steps and I'll focus on making the cut first and then look at personal goals after that. If I make the cut I could get a few exemptions for other tournaments and that's what I want to do: play as many tournaments as possible and make opportunities for myself. It's all a learning curve.

"My game's got much better recently, but there has been something wrong with my putting, the alignment is off. I bought a new putter before going to Thailand and really wanted to use it. But it was a reckless decision. I'm going back to my old putter for Abu Dhabi; I'm going old school." Despite his tender years, Musharrekh, who shot a career best round of five-under-par 67 to win the UAE Nationals Monthly Medal last month, has the world at his feet. "College is a possibility for next year, my dad wants me to go, but I'd really like to go to Europe and play tournaments. Then I'd aim to go back to Q School and improve my game even more."

He may not be the finished article, but the UAE's history boy is certainly on the right path. @Email:emegson@thenational.ae