Ahmed Marjan has grown from a shy boy in Rabat to a confident amateur since finishing up a scholarship programme at the Sheikh Maktoum Golf Foundation, writes John McAuley.
Moroccan teenager making strong foray on golf course
For all the benefits gleaned from winning last year's Mena Tour amateur Order of Merit, Ahmed Marjan is in little doubt as to what has been most rewarding.
"For sure it's that I have gained confidence," said the Moroccan through a translator, although he demonstrates his newly acquired English outside of the interview at Emirates Golf Club in Dubai.
"I now feel smart and not stupid."
Marjan finished the inaugural Mena Tour as the leading amateur – he posted the best rounds in his category in two of the four events and was the only non-professional to break par every day at the season-ending Tour Championship – and was awarded not only a place in February's Omega Dubai Desert Classic, but also a summer scholarship with the Sheikh Maktoum Golf Foundation.
The programme included intensive golf tuition, physical conditioning and even an English language course. Marjan, living away from home for the first time in his 19 years, has transformed from a timid teenager into a golfer of genuine ambition.
"His shoulders are back and he's got so much more belief," said Mark Gregson-Walters, the teaching professional who has been working with Marjan since June.
"Quite a few people noticed he would struggle to look you in the eye at first, but now his chest is puffed out, he's completely there and has a lot of confidence in himself."
Marjan has come a considerable way from his formative years in Rabat. He first sampled golf as a seven year old on a scrap of land adjacent to one of the capital's courses, his "clubs" made from metal rods and cola cans.
He and friends would spend afternoons pretending to be the exclusive few playing on the nearby fairways, when one evening Prince Moulay Rachid, the brother of Morocco's king, passed in his car and noticed the fevered gathering.
He was so inspired by the scene that a school was soon created for children to learn the game.
Three hundred hopefuls were assembled, evaluated and eventually whittled down to 20.
Marjan, one of the most promising, honed his considerable talent at the facility run by the Hassan II Golf Trophy Association (ATH), continuing his golfing education while not keeping up his studies.
"I am definitely better at golf," he said. "I was an average student."
A significant skill set was evident during last season's Mena Tour and this has been sharpened handsomely in Dubai these past five months.
Transition to life in the emirate was tough at first, but at his family's request – he is the third of four children – he has understood what needs to be done to achieve his dreams.
"They tell me to build for my future and do whatever I need to," he said. "The first week was difficult here, but then I told myself if I want to do something in golf I need to concentrate and make sacrifices. Now I think time is going too quickly."
Despite the rapidly passing weeks, Marjan has made the most of his opportunity.
The youngster can be found on the range almost every day, and working with Gregson-Walters has enhanced his ball striking and control, with sessions in the gym with Alan Walters, his physical coach, providing the sequencing and strength to better support his golf mechanics.
Increased distance – he has added 20 yards off the tee – has been the greatest improvement. Gregson-Walters, though, insists better course management is needed to compensate for the changes in his swing, yet remains convinced his star pupil has an incredibly bright future.
"With what Ahmed's got – natural talent and an understanding of good work ethics – he can certainly make that step from amateur to tour professional," he said.
"He's got the physical strength, the technique that's given him the required distance to compete on a world tour and is still very young.
"But, most importantly, he shows the desire to improve. He is hungry for success."
Marjan displayed that appetite earlier this year when he teed off at the Desert Classic. He felt comfortable enough alongside the cream of the European Tour to accept a practice round with Rafael Cabrera-Bello, the tournament's eventual winner, and having had a taste of professional life longs to experience it again.
"Everybody was telling me not to be afraid and were trying to frighten me, but I wasn't scared at all," he said. "I just wanted to hit the ball and that was it.
"It was great to play against players of the highest level; I could learn from them and had the opportunity to increase my own standard and see how top professionals perform."
Marjan cites a lack of tournament time in the build-up to this year's tour as reason for his relatively modest Order of Merit defence – he sits sixth going into today's final round of the season – but would not swap his scholarship for improved results.
A Tiger Woods fan, he now has the belief to one day rub shoulders with his hero.
"The biggest change is my mentality," he said. "I was a very shy person before – very introverted – and couldn't talk to people, even in Arabic.
"But now, maybe because it's the first time I'm by myself and getting advice one-to-one, I have improved a lot.
"I always dream of becoming a big golfer, and this has really helped. I'm very lucky to be here."
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