x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Al Haj wants to convince more women to play golf

The Emirati is hoping that a good showing at the Arab Championship in Morocco this week will inspire others to pick up a club.

Rabab Al Haj, right, is representing the UAE in the individual event at the Arab Golf Championship in Morocco, which starts on Wednesday.
Rabab Al Haj, right, is representing the UAE in the individual event at the Arab Golf Championship in Morocco, which starts on Wednesday.

Rabab Al Haj was preparing to challenge some of the regions top women golfers at the Arab Golf Championship tomorrow, hoping her exploits will inspire young UAE females to pick up a club and take to the fairways.

The doctor - she is a physician at Dubai Hospital - is competing in the individual event in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, while the UAE men's team will go up against teams from 14 other Arabic counties in a 54-hole competition which finishes on Friday.

Al Haj and fellow Emirati golfer, Eida Al Mehairbi, made history at last year's Arab Golf Championships by forming the first UAE women's team to take part in the competition.

And now the 40 year old, who only started playing seriously five years ago, wants to see more follow her example.

"Golf is not popular with women of any age in the UAE right now, although through the good work of the Emirates Golf Federation there are more players coming through," said Al Haj, speaking to The National from Rabat.

"I would love to see more girls take up the game because golf helps with concentration and focusing the mind. That helps with schoolwork, and indeed all aspects of life, so it's not just about sport. It will be an asset with studying as well.

"It will take time for golf to become big with women in the UAE. I really started in 2006 when I first took lessons and enjoyed it right away, but I needed great support from my family as I have four children.

"So I hope that me being involved in the Arab Championship will raise golf's profile at home and maybe make some people become interested."

Al Haj revealed practice had gone well at Rabat, although she was looking for progress rather than a win.

"I play between 20 and 22. It's a bit up and down as golf always is," she said when asked about her handicap.

Her heroes are Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, who is a particular favourite.

Last year was a milestone for the UAE team and Al Haj would like to return to the tournament with a teammate in the near future and represent her country once more.

"The event in 2010 was a great learning experience and I would like to compete again in a team, not as an individual," she said. "That would be great for the UAE.

"There are so many female golfers now from Arabic countries and I want to see the UAE catch up with them.

"There are especially good players from Tunisia and Egypt.

"My own personal aim is to get my handicap down to single figures one day, so competitions such as this one are perfect for me. I want to play many more international tournaments in the future, which will help me progress."

Leading the men's team will be Ahmed Al Musharrekh, now the star of UAE golf after his superb showing in last month's Nomura Cup in Fiji, where the team finished in a best-ever position of 14th. Ahmed will be joined by his brothers, Abdulla and Hassan, Khalid Yousuf and Faris Al Mazrui in leading the UAE challenge at Rabat.

Chris Vallender, the UAE national coach, was confident ahead of his team's second international tournament in the space of a few weeks.

"The results have been improving and practice has gone well," he said. "There have been a lot of low scores and, as we did at times in the Nomura Cup, if we can take that into the actual tournament then we are in for a good three days.

"I have always said that if we find some consistency, then we will live up to our potential. The guys have worked really hard at all aspects of their game and can now see that getting them results. They are definitely good enough to compete at this level."