x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Khaled Attieh gets ready to play alongside golf's biggest names in Dubai

Khaled Attieh, a 16-year-old from Saudi Arabia, is set to become the first professional from the Gulf and will look to impress at this week's Dubai Desert Classic.

Khaled Attieh is only 16, but the amateur from Saudi Arabia will be playing alongside some of the world’s best golfers, including Tiger Woods, at the Dubai Desert Classic this week at Emirates Golf Club.
Khaled Attieh is only 16, but the amateur from Saudi Arabia will be playing alongside some of the world’s best golfers, including Tiger Woods, at the Dubai Desert Classic this week at Emirates Golf Club.

Khaled Attieh, a schoolboy golf protege, will take another significant stride this week towards fulfilling his ambition to become the Gulf's first fully-fledged professional tour player.

Born in Saudi Arabia and based in Dubai for the past three years after moving from Jeddah, Attieh, 16, is already regarded as one of the best amateur players in the UAE.

Last month, he won the qualifying competition for a place in this week's Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

A three-stroke victory over a chasing pack led by Dubai Creek's Andy Andrews confirmed the view held by many that the rapidly-improving teenager can deliver what many ambitious Middle East golfers before him tried but failed to achieve.

"Hopefully if I can keep on the right track and stay focused and not get too carried away I might be able to get to pro level on day," said Attieh, who plays off a handicap of plus-two - after starting with a handicap of 36 less than four years ago.

"I reckon I can do that if I keep showing the work ethic that I have shown so far and keep making improvements to all parts of my game," he said.

"I know it won't be easy but it's an ambition of mine and I'm going to give it everything I can to fulfil that ambition."

That will probably mean attending college and playing golf in the United States after he completes his studies in the UAE.

Attieh is hooked on the sport in a big way.

As soon as his high school commitments at Dubai American Academy are finished for the day, he makes his way to either the championship course at the Els Club or the adjoining Butch Harmon School where resident professionals have been impressed by his rate of development.

Justin Parsons, who helps run the Harmon School and will caddy for Attieh during the Desert Classic, is already a big fan.

"He's a smashing young lad," Parsons said. "He's a credit to his family.

"He's a good player who works extremely hard at his game. There is a strong package there."

Parsons has also been a mentor for Khalid Yousuf, the leading Emirati player who received an invitation to play in last month's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Parsons said he will adopt the same approach with Attieh.

"It is a great help for these young players if they have got somebody on their bag who knows their game inside out," Parsons said of his caddying role.

"It's nerve-wracking enough for the pros in an event as big as this one so imagine what it's going to be like for a 16-year-old amateur.

"My main aim is to help him to have a great experience. If he can perform to the level we know he is capable of then that would be good."

Parsons said making the cut would be a bonus.

"Khaled is a very balanced young man and is not a showy type of character," he said.

"He is a nice grafter. His handicap is improving steadily. His progress has been consistent and the longer we can keep him going in that direction the better."

Attieh has received encouragement from two other professionals at the Els Club - Richard Sheridan and Callum Nicoll, both of whom have been successful in recent European Tour qualifiers.

Sheridan last month qualified for the Abu Dhabi tournament for the second successive year, and Nicoll won the recent qualifier on the Majlis Course by three strokes to secure a place in the Desert Classic.

Sheridan said he suffered from nerves when he fell short of expectations each time in Abu Dhabi and is hoping Attieh can avoid that problem.

"If he can just control the nerves then he's got a chance," Sheridan said. "Having Justin on his bag might have a calming influence.

"We all think really highly of Khaled at the golf club. He wants to be the first Saudi national to make the European Tour. I reckon he can do that. Why not?"

Nicoll agreed. "Young Khaled is an outstanding prospect," he said.

"He works really hard at his game and he has shown tremendous improvement."

Nicoll, 28, who will represent his native Scotland in this week's tournament at the Emirates Golf Club, is also savouring the forthcoming highlight of his sporting career.

His crowning moment so far was going within two strokes of qualifying for the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie.

"I needed a birdie at the last to get in ... and I made bogey," he said.

Nicoll will put Els Club rivalry to one side when he and Attieh arrive at the Classic.

"There will be no private battle between us on the day," he said. "I think we will be pushing each other along and it will be interesting to see who has the better score."

The two local qualifiers both posted rounds of 71s to get into the Classic, although Attieh was on course for a 69 until a triple bogey at the 12th hole stopped his momentum.

"It was important that I managed to birdie the next hole to get back into my stride again," he said.

"Although I bogeyed 15 on the way in I managed another birdie at the 17th to keep myself under par which was extremely satisfying on such a famous course."

Attieh will seek to go about his business in the same way in the main event.

"This is going to be the biggest occasion of my life, so it is vital to maintain the same mentality I had in the qualifying round - keep it steady and not get too excited."

Teeing it up on the Majlis course tomorrow will surpass all of Attieh's previous achievements.

An annual summer visitor to North America to stay with his coach Brett Saunders in Vancouver, he already has one tournament win in Canada and a second-placed finish in the British Columbia state championship earned him a crack at the US Junior championship last July.

That involved playing 36 holes of stroke play in one day at the various qualifying venues.

"I got in by one shot on the Gold Mountain course in Washington," Attieh said.

"That entitled me to play in the match play part of the tournament in Michigan."

He won his first match but was defeated in the second round by Justin Thomas, who went on to reach the final in which he was beaten by Jimmy Liu.

It was his summer trip of 2008 that convinced Attieh that he could make his mark in golf.

Arriving in Canada with his handicap trimmed to 26, he returned to Dubai three months later as a 12 handicapper and kept on making steady progress with his game.

The landmark of a scratch golfer was reached last summer and he improved it further to plus-one before his 16th birthday in December.

Now, playing off plus-two, he is hoping to get down to the level of plus-four that is generally regarded as a safe passport into the US collegiate system.

"Playing well in some big events over there has given me confidence for what lies ahead for me in the game," Attieh said.