x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Ali is reaching for the stars

After losing most of the last 18 months through injury and illness, Yashin Ali aims to get his career back on track in the UBS Hong Kong Open.

Yashin Ali is looking to make an impact in the world of golf after illness has dogged his career.
Yashin Ali is looking to make an impact in the world of golf after illness has dogged his career.

Although his parents chose his name for reasons of faith rather than any passion for boxing, when Muhammad Yasin Ali decided on sport as a career path, then it was inevitable that people would come to expect great things of him. And just like the Louisville Lip, Yasin Ali has dreams of becoming "The Greatest", of achieving a British Open championship triumph at St Andrews, of going head-to-head with Tiger Woods over the final round of the Masters at Augusta, of being the man "who holed the putt that won The Ryder Cup".

After losing most of the last 18 months through injury and illness (more of which later), the Englishman, who is aged 26, has enjoyed two Top 10 finishes on the Asian Tour in recent weeks, should discover how near he is to achieving those lofty ambitions when he pits his skills against the likes of Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, John Daly, Rory Sabbatini, Miguel Angel Jimenez, and his boyhood hero, Nick Faldo, in this week's 50th Hong Kong Open.

A wise man once said that "the tragedy of life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal, the tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn't a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It isn't a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for". "Whoever it was, he got it in one," says Ali, who began reaching for the stars as a young boy on a humble pay-as-you-go course in Ealing, west London. "I have to believe that one day my name will be engraved on the Claret Jug alongside that of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and the Tiger. Isn't that what every young golfer imagines?"

Augusta and St Andrews are a world and a half removed from the Brent Valley Public Golf Course where Ali embarked on the path he hopes will lead him to greatness. "You dropped your cash into an 'honesty box' and joined the queue waiting to tee off. Sometimes we had to wait four hours just to hit the first ball but I couldn't have been happier because I was out in the fresh air spending time with my dad [Zulfiqar] and big brother [Auraz]. No, it wasn't exactly the Old Course but I treasure those memories."

Zulfiqar Ali had been a cricketer of international repute in his native Kenya where, as a seam-bowler and vice-captain, he represented East Africa in the inaugural World Cup of 1975, taking the wickets of Dennis Amiss, Frank Hayes and Tony Greig during a 196-run defeat against England at Edgbaston. It was only natural, therefore, that when the family left Kenya for London, Auraz and Yasin would reach for willow and leather.

"But to be honest, I didn't really take to team sports. One Saturday morning only four of our 11 players bothered to show up at which point I announced, 'that's it with cricket'. Dad used to go to the local golf range at weekends - his hand-eye co-ordination is amazing - so Auraz and I began pestering him to take us along." Yasin Ali's golfing ambitions might have remained on the range had his father not taken him along to see the 1993 European Open.

"I have no idea who won [Gordon Brand Jnr] because I only had eyes for Nick Faldo. He stood apart from everyone else, his clothes as immaculate as his shots. I said something like 'I want to be that man', so you can imagine what a thrill it was to win the Nick Faldo Junior Series at Royal St George's four years later. For three years running, I was also lucky enough to be invited over to America to spend a week with Nick. Those who say he's aloof don't know the man, the amount of time he devoted to us kids was incredible. It's well known that Nick took up golf when he saw Jack Nicklaus playing in the Masters on television, well Nick was my inspiration."

After completing his education at Oklahoma City University, Ali set up home in Dubai to compete on the Asian Tour where, after a promising "rookie" season - so much so that one newspaper was moved to suggest that he would have the same impact on golf in the UAE as Seve Ballesteros had in Spain - his career entered a tail-spin. "My problems began at last year's Malaysian Open where I picked up a viral fever and needed an injection to keep me going through the four rounds. I should have followed the doctor's orders and taken time off but it was my first full year on the Asian Tour and having worked so hard to come through the qualifying school, no way was I going to sit on the sidelines.

"I was very weak so I developed an elbow injury which, in turn, grew worse the more I bashed balls about and it's only in recent weeks that I've finally recovered full fitness and can play without pain." Having been stung by a doctor's needle, Ali was then struck by Cupid's arrow and married a Scots lass of Indian descent in August. With an apartment in Dubai's Marina, I do not suppose there was any point in jetting off to an exotic location on honeymoon?

"What honeymoon?" he said. "We were married on Sunday the 17th and that night I flew out Brunei. I've probably seen my wife Nazrana two weeks tops since our wedding but we're going to have a huge celebration for both families next month in Dubai. "The long-term ambition is still Europe and the US Tour but I love life on the Asian Tour. I have three wonderful sponsors - Emirates Airline, who look after me incredibly, Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Spa and Dubai company Al Naboodah - so I've never been happier."

And if one man deserves to be happy in life it is Yasin Ali. rphilip@thenational.ae