Ahmed al Musharrekh has taken another significant stride towards what he hopes will become a professional golf career by qualifying for the European Challenge Tour's Egyptian Open later this month.
Al Musharrekh, one of three talented golfing brothers, becomes the first UAE national to earn the right to compete against leading professionals such as Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Matteo Manassero, the Italian youngster who recently converted from the amateur ranks.
Needing to finish among the top five from a field of 51 in the Egyptian Amateur Open, al Musharrekh accomplished his task with relative ease. He finished the 54-hole competition in fourth place, five strokes ahead of the fifth qualifer to ensure that he achieved his objective with plenty to spare. Al Musharrekh, who had exuded confidence before the tournament, was elated to have booked his trip to Egypt.
"It feels great," he said after carding a closing round of 72 for a 220 total, five strokes behind the winner, Jack Senior of England. "The feeling of becoming the first golfer UAE to make it to the Egyptian Open hasn't sunk in yet. "The competition was tough, but the key was to remain patient and concentrate on one shot a time, which I did." It was the strongest signal yet that al Musharrekh, who was given a wild-card invitation into this year's Abu Dhabi Championship, may eventually convert his plus-two amateur handicap into a professional player's card.
Nick Tarratt, a director of the European Tour who is based in Dubai, was impressed, describing al Musharrekh's achievement as "a genuine international performance". "Many of the international players who took part in this tournament are seasoned campaigners having represented their countries all over the world," Tarratt said. "To gain one of the top five spots in this quality international field must be one of the best performances from a UAE National in recent years."
Saeed Albudoor, the general manager of the Emirates Golf Federation, congratulated al Musharrekh, who will lead the national team next weekend in the Arab Championships in Tunisia, Albudoor maintained the result reflects the rising standards of golf in the UAE. "Ahmed, a product of our Junior Development Programme, has raised the bar for his fellow golfers," he said. "I am sure his qualification for the Egyptian Open will encourage many to follow in his footsteps.
"I wish him all the best and hope he will continue his good work and keep the UAE flag high in other regional tournaments as well." Al Musharrekh is eager to prepare hard for competing at the Egyptian Open. "I need to work even harder if I have to do well against some of the top golfers on the European Challenge Tour," he said. "I am looking forward to the challenge ahead and, hopefully, meeting Rory [McIlory] during the tournament."
McIlroy has been signed up as the leading attraction for the US$250,000 (Dh918,250) tournament, to be staged at Mirage City from October 20-23. Six other UAE-based players took part in the three-day amateur event but none seriously threatened to claim one of the qualifying spots. Miki Mirza, who registered as a Canadian, finished 15th, three places ahead of al Musharrekh's elder brother, Abdulla.
The English expatriates Jim Prescott and Joel Neale finished 22nd and 26th respectively, while Nabil Sharif, a third Emirati entry, claimed a solid 34th position in the standings.