x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rory McIlroy backs local talent

Northern Irishman confident Middle East player will make European Tour.

ABU DHABI // Less than a week since the UAE secured two gold medals in golf at the Arab Games, Rory McIlroy has spoken of his confidence in the Emirates producing a player capable of competing on the European Tour.

Dubai-based Ahmed Al Musharrekh won individual gold in Doha last week before joining compatriots Faris Al Mazroui and Khalid Yousuf to claim the team event.

McIlroy, the US Open winner and No3-ranked player in the world, has strong ties to the Emirates: the Northern Irishman has been sponsored by Jumeirah since turning professional in 2007 and won his first event on Tour at the Dubai Desert Classic in 2009 – an event, he says, that feels like "playing in front of my home crowd".

It was in 2007 at the Emirates Golf Club, six months before turning pro, that McIlroy first met Yousuf.

The two amateurs were paired together for a Monday morning practice round and have kept in close contact ever since.

Having kept an eye on his friend's career from afar, the 22 year old is sure soon enough either Yousuf or a fellow Arab player will grace golf's global stage.

"[Khalid] is improving all the time and learning about what it takes to be a top professional golfer," McIlroy told The National this week.

He added that the Desert Swing - tour events held in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai - can only benefit young players from the region.

"It's only a matter of time before a golfer from the Middle East makes an impact on the European Tour," he said. "They have great weather and facilities and are able to watch the world's best players - and even play alongside them like Khalid did earlier this year - at tournaments such as the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae