x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Khaled Attieh has shown resolve in Dubai

The Saudi golfer is only 16 years of age but he has shown maturity that will surely see him succeed as a professional.

Khaled Attieh in action at the Dubai Desert Classic.
Khaled Attieh in action at the Dubai Desert Classic.

A lad barely 16 seemed to wander in a wonderland yesterday, playing a top-crust golf course, hitting shots that deserved violins, gazing from the fourth green to spot Sergio Garcia strolling from the seventh tee, crossing paths at holes 12 and 15 with the esteemed trio of Miguel Angel Jimenez-Thomas Bjorn-MatteoManassero.

Nah.

At heart, Khaled Attieh was a dedicated golfer with an imperturbable demeanour who just really, really wanted to make the cut at the Dubai Desert Classic. He caught that glimpse of Garcia only out of familiarity; they had played together before.

And so in the onrushing darkness of going-on-6pm when the Dubai-based Saudi native of Jeddah came up in front of the water guarding the 18th green, with the pin placed barbarically up front and the scorecard crying out for a holed eagle in order to reach the final two rounds, Attieh knew only one option.

"He wanted me to go up and hold the flag for him," coach-and-caddy Justin Parsons cracked.

Aiming for the implausible with the water shouting and the wind fooling around, Attieh hit one that promised briefly but then dunked surely. There went the made-cut daydream, not that it stopped him from proceeding to the drop zone and producing the kind of beauty to 10 feet that set up a bogey chance.

The closing double bogey, however, should occlude neither his two-day 75-73 that landed at four-over par, nor that fact that the 73 almost surely would have been 71 or 70 without that necessary gamble, nor the array of shots - especially putts - that qualified as thoroughly impressive.

His putting speeds alone could wring tears from a duffer.

"It's a lot of experience, of course, playing with this sort of field and the sort of players I played with," Attieh said, and he extolled the condition of the course, a tip-top shape which will become his virtual living room if he achieves his dream of playing on a professional tour, a rung unprecedented for a player from the Gulf region.

For the small array of parents and friends and Butch Harmon School shirts that followed him in the last group of the day alongside Jbe Kruger of South Africa and Chris Cannon of England, in that part of the tournament yesterday when the stands empty and the roars fade and the holes start getting idle, a bushel of Attieh shots drew art-appreciation clapping.

Which moment impressed most? It might have been the approach to two feet from the fairway fringe on the fifth hole, or the achingly good chip from the sand beside the No 10 green, or the 3-iron toward birdie on No 12 (his favourite), or his line-drive improvisation from behind three palms on No 13, or the par save here (No 6) or there (No 8) or over there (No 14) or over there (No 16), or the birdies rolled gently in from afar (No 7, No 12) or rattled in from afar (No 17).

It could have been that after he double-bogeyed No 11 when his green-side chip crossed the green into the opposite fringe, he responded with birdies on Nos 12 and 13.

It could have been the six - six! - birdies.

Or it could have been that when he flubs, he recovers in milliseconds, a thread of his nonchalant, almost-jovial air.

"I don't get really angry," he said. "I mainly get frustrated only a few times. Once the hole is done, I don't think about it."

In a game invented possibly as a sinister plot to rile humanity, such a manner bodes well.

"He's unbelievably calm for a 16-year-old," said Parsons, who co-coaches Attieh with the North America-based Brett Saunders. "He should be very proud of how he played."

He will be disappointed, Parsons said, because of his "self-belief" and his "work ethic" and his incapacity for being wowed with himself.

"He's a good ball-striker and getting stronger" while working on fitness at Harmon. "He really has come on physically in the last six to 12 months."

Much of the work, Parsons said, remains in the pitching, but it is work Attieh craves, and it is work he clearly has done across merely four years as his game has rushed on and his score dipped under par thrice yesterday, the cut realistic all the way until the par-3 No 15, where a chunked tee shot and a wanting chip and a tough, tough par putt he darned-near made applied much of the quash.

"He gave himself a real chance out there to make the cut in one of the best European Tour events of the season on one of the best courses," Parsons said, and then, as if that weren't enough, one determined 16-year-old closed the day by saying politely, "Thank you for watching me play".