UAE's Ahmed Skaik targets strong showing at Golf in Dubai Championship with a little support from Ian Poulter

Emirati is enjoying the benefits of a mentorship scheme created by DP World in which he receives advice from the Ryder Cup star

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 17: Ahmed Skaik of the United Arab Emirates plays his fourth shot on the second hole during the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on January 17, 2020 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Ahmed Skaik might be forgiven for approaching his second European Tour golf event with a certain amount of trepidation this week.

The 23-year-old Emirati will be teeing up on the Fire Course on Wednesday, having been granted an invite to play in the new Golf in Dubai Championship presented by DP World.

As a resident of Dubai, he knows the course well, but not like this. Not with the tees this far back, the rough this dense, and the fairways pinched in this far.

Then there are the memories of last time out on Tour. Gripped by nerves on his first start amongst golf's elite, Skaik returned a brace of scores in the 80s at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship back in January.

Since then, everyone has faced setbacks, what with the amount of time spent away from practice because of Covid.

And yet the young left-hander admits to feeling “quite chilled out” given the circumstances.

And why not? This is another chance to measure himself against the game’s elite. Another chance to learn from the best.

Plus, he has the benefit of a font of top-tier Tour knowledge to lean on, now.

For the past few months, Skaik has had Ian Poulter at the end of a phone line, ready and willing to dispense advice, as part of a mentorship scheme organised by DP World.

That might have been exciting enough, given that Poulter is among the recognisable faces on the Tour. Then factor in the fact the Englishman was one of Skaik’s heroes growing up.

Poulter was one of the three golfers – the others being Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood – who prompted him to give up his first childhood passion – football – and try golf instead.

“I just ask him whatever I want, and he gives advice on what to work on and how to prepare just before events,” Skaik said of their link up.

“I ask about how to manage pressure. He has played the Ryder Cup, which must be the most pressure you are ever going to feel.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 16: Ahmed Skaik of the United Arab Emirates lines up a putt with his caddie on the seventeenth green during Day One of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on January 16, 2020 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

“The advice he gave was, if you are not playing well and you are losing, always get to the tee first, always get to the green first.

“Show that you are never going to give up, and always walk with confidence, no matter what. Keep your head high.

“And with putting, he gave me a few practice drills, and suggested a few things to buy, to help with the putting stroke.”

It is ironic that Poulter’s advice to Skaik so far has mainly centred on how best to keep his emotions in check.

What appealed to the young Emirati most about his now-mentor were the outpourings of emotions he has displayed so vividly in Ryder Cup golf down the years.

“The first Ryder Cup I watched was in 2010, and that was before I played golf,” Skaik said. “Until then, I had watched football for so long, and I loved watching someone that showed a lot of emotions.

“Every putt he would make, he would just scream, and pump himself up. I looked at him and decided: I want to be like this guy.”

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 15: Ian Poulter of England plays a shot on the 10th hole during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on November 15, 2020 in Augusta, Georgia.   Rob Carr/Getty Images/AFP

Master and apprentice spoke to each other on Monday evening. Skaik told him that he was targeting the cut, but Poulter encouraged him to try to relieve the pressure of expectation on himself instead.

“It’s been extremely rewarding having a close relationship with Ahmed over the past few months,” Poulter said.

“He is a great home talent, and that is something which is exciting for the whole of the UAE. To have somebody who is in the development stages of going through to become a great golfer.

“I have had a lot of fun getting to know him, his personality, and taking him through where his mindset is, and where his expectations are for the week.

“It is rewarding to be able to help someone along their journey. It is never easy, but if I can give him one piece of advice which he takes forward this week, or into one of his other tournaments, that helps him, then that’s great.”

With Poulter’s endorsement driving him, Skaik is confident of a good showing around a Jumeirah Golf Estates course which he knows well.

“I’m confident I can shoot a low score there, because I have played there so many times,” Skaik said.

“This week it is playing way longer than I usually play it, and the rough is thicker, the fairways are a bit tighter, and the greens are firmer.

“But I played [on Monday] and felt very comfortable out there. Hopefully we can take that into the event.”