'There's always a tomorrow,' says UAE's Yousuf

Emirati amateur knows his standing among golfers but is optimistic about improving from the wrong end of the leaderboard.

Khalid Yousuf was the only amateur contestant on the National Course yesterday.
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Only once did Khalid Yousuf let his frustration show, and that was on the second-to-last shot of his patience-testing round at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship yesterday.

After getting himself into position to end his day with his first birdie, the Emirati college student left his 15-foot putt a few inches short of the hole on the 18th green.

He grimaced and made a barely perceptible chopping motion with his errant putter, which had been so instrumental in his 13-over-par round of 85.

"It was a putt I thought I should make, and it would have been a great way to end the round with a birdie," Yousuf said. "It was annoying that it didn't go in."

Yousuf, the only amateur in the field, was otherwise a model of comportment on a day when little went right for him.

He was constantly in the rough off the tee, and his putter did him no favours, either, just two days after he shot a 73 during a practice round at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club's National Course.

"My front nine was horrible," Yousuf said. "The rough is very deep, and if you get into it - and I did, a lot - it's almost a sure bogey. And you saw my putting; I just couldn't get the ball in the hole."

Yousuf, 21, played in the opening threesome with Richard Bland, of England, and Australia's Rick Kulacz.

They teed off at 7.20am, when the course was wet, dark and nearly deserted. "It would have been nice to start later," Yousuf said. "I think all of us looked a bit tired."

The professionals struggled almost as much as did the young amateur; Bland scrambled to a one-under 71, but Kulacz sprayed tee shots all over the course and turned in an 80.

When Yousuf and his mother, Jennie, arrived in the pre-dawn, the wild-card entrant had harboured ambitions of shooting "one, two or three over par" and perhaps finishing near the cut in the first event of the European Tour season and his first appearance at the Abu Dhabi professional event.

But he bogeyed two of the first four holes and took a double-bogey six on the fifth after he drove into the rough and failed to get out of it with a 3-iron shot that travelled about 20 feet.

"I didn't realise how deep the ball was sunk in the rough," he said. "It was at the bottom, not halfway down, like I thought. I should have just popped it out on the fairway, but I thought I could minimise the damage."

His mother, a native of Sussex, England, followed him around the course and felt his pain. At the 10th tee she predicted better results on the back nine. "He'll be more relaxed now," she said. "It's just so annoying that the putts aren't falling."

Neither Jennie nor her husband, Saeed, play golf, but the elder of their sons took up the game after attending a development session when he was eight, "and he hasn't put the clubs down since", she said. He is now a member of the national team and has travelled the world while representing the country.

"It's been a wonderful adventure for him," his mother said. "I don't think he's missed a continent."

The UAE coach, Chris Vallender, of South Africa, served as his caddy yesterday.

Yousuf plays four to five times per week, his mother said, often making the short walk over the bridge that connects Emirates Golf Club with the American University of Dubai, where he is close to gaining a degree in business and finance. His father, who took a degree from Harvard, is the company secretary at Emirates Bank.

Yousuf said he decided, at the turn, to forget about his 9-over-par front nine and approach the final nine holes as a fresh game. "Some people would give up," he said. "I just said to myself, 'Let's see what I do on the back nine'."

Yousuf went only five-over par on the way in as he managed to limit his forays into the rough or into the sand, and he narrowly missed three birdie putts, including one that lipped out on No 16.

He said the 85, which left him 20 shots behind Padraig Harrington, the early leader of the elite field, did not distress him.

"There's very little difference between 75 and 85 at this tournament," he said. "You're not going to be in contention with either score. I'm the amateur; I'm not expected to do anything special. I'm happy that I played better on the back nine, and there's always tomorrow."

Yousuf tees off on the 10th hole at 11.45am today.

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