x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Ahmed Al Musharrekh and Stuart Fee put their distractions to one side

"Making the cut" is the aim for the UAE's top amateur Al Musharrekh, while Fee hopes to welcome a new arrival before Thursday's tee off at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, writes Osman Samiuddin.

On any list of the best ways to prepare for a tournament in that Luke Donald, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are also taking part, one of the highest-profile golf competitions you are likely to come across on the tour, being occupied with university work or busy in anticipation of the arrival of your first child will probably not find an entry.

Yet this is precisely how circumstances have compelled Ahmed Al Musharrekh and Stuart Fee, the two local representatives in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship which starts later this week, to prepare for what is the biggest sporting event of their lives.

Fee is the father-to-be, having spent the last couple of days in the labour ward with his wife.

The Englishman qualified for the tournament by winning the UAE PGA professional qualifying event, beating off the challenge of 29 other players on a gusty day last December.

He teaches golf at the Jebel Ali Golf resort and work has been keeping him occupied as well.

"I've been pretty busy at work, where there's a lot going on with lessons," Fee said. "Since then, the last couple of days, I've been at the hospital and nothing seems to be happening at the moment, we're just sitting around and waiting.

"Sunday was the due date, we came in and started the necessary procedures but the baby doesn't want to know at the moment. But I've been trying to do practice, a little bit every day, half an hour, an hour. Some days it's been impossible, other days it's not been impossible."

The 21-year-old Al Musharrekh has nothing quite as momentous pending, though university life is clearly not the lark it is cracked up to be.

He is the UAE's top-ranked golfer and the top Emirati in last year's Mena (Middle East and North Africa) Tour and is soon to turn professional, but lectures take a priority for now and you can't imagine any of Woods, Donald or McIlroy to be worrying about such things.

"It is tough to balance out the time between university, which is why you get pro sportsmen dropping out early," he said. "Golf takes up a lot of your time.

"But my [management] degree means a lot to me and it's one of the things I want to accomplish in my life, so I want to finish that.

"I haven't been able to prepare as well as I wanted to because I've been very busy with university. But I've played a lot of golf last year and I'm sure if I can go out there and relax, then I can bring that game back for the weekend."

The pair make for a fine contrast, even beyond what has been keeping them busy over the past few weeks.

Al Musharrekh is young and speaks with the go-getting focus of a young man with the promise of a promising career ahead of him.

He can cope, he says, with the mental challenge of stepping out among the best players in the game.

Fee is older, more downplayed and wise in the ways of a club professional. He has just about come to terms with what he is about to undergo this week on the golf course.

Al Musharrekh sets himself a target for championships.

"It's just a matter of achieving my first goals which is to make the cut," he said. "After I make the cut, I'm just going to be in the moment. My main goal is to make the cut and after that I can be as aggressive as I want but first things first, I have to play relaxed, be in the moment, enjoy the experience.

"If I do that and have fun I'll make the cut because I'll just be playing my game and I'm sure my game is good enough to make the cut. But after the second day, if I've made the cut I'll try to move up the list."

Fee has not set himself any specific goals, and says he is happy to take in an experience he feels is unlikely to come around again.

"I just want to go out and try to enjoy myself," he said. "I'm not sure how possible that's going to be, under the circumstances that I haven't played before in one of these events.

"My number one goal is to try to enjoy it because before I know it, it'll be over and the opportunity might not come around again.

"My life revolves around teaching people to play as opposed to playing myself. So I don't really have any goals in my mind as to where I finish or anything like that.

"Other people have targets for me or expectations but I don't have any myself really.

"I just want to do myself justice and again, probably because it's my first crack at this I probably won't do myself justice. You never know, I might play OK and not do too badly."

Al Musharrekh wants to seek out Woods, his favourite player, and wish him luck.

"I'd love to bump into him in the gym or on the putting green," Al Musharrekh said. "I'm just going to wish him luck for the week, I'm sure he'll be too busy working on his routine but it'll be nice to have his attention for a bit, have a quick chat.

"Just having those moments with these amazing players makes a huge difference to your game for the week."

Fee has no particular player he really wants to meet; after winning the qualifying event last month, he was asked who his favourite player was when he was growing up. Only after much thought and prompting did he opt for Nick Faldo. He is used to being around top golfers at his club.

"No one in particular really … I've been kind of fortunate with where I work," he said. "We've had a lot of players stay at the hotel down the line and come and practice. Just as I said before it'd just be great to play in the same event as them really."

If there is any advantage to be had over as glittering and daunting a line-up as the one that descends upon Abu Dhabi this week, it is in the pair's relative familiarity with the course.

Fee was competing as recently as last month here and Al Musharrekh (who secured an invitation to contest the event from Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, the championship organisers) will take in some practice this week, on his short game in particular.

He played in the tournament two years ago as well although he failed to make the cut then.

"It is an advantage [being familiar with the course] but there is a lot of change for the tournament, such as the greens and the rough," he said.

"But I do know the course and am comfortable with it. It's just a matter of getting used to it.

"The greens are very fast, the rough is going to be thick so it's just about doing my preparations for those areas."

Next week, the pair will go back to their lives; Fee to teach at the resort (albeit as a new father), Al Musharrekh to get through his degree and think of turning professional.

Those lives, though, may never be the same again for what they will experience this week.