x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Talent to turn pro is there - the desire from UAE golfers sadly isn't

Chris Vallender says facilities and support are in place for the likes of Yousuf to pursue a career as a professional, but the pressure is too daunting.

Khalid Yousuf says the pressure of trying to compete on the professional tour was too much for him. He became the first Emirati to tee-off at a world-class event in 2008 at the Dubai Desert Classic.
Khalid Yousuf says the pressure of trying to compete on the professional tour was too much for him. He became the first Emirati to tee-off at a world-class event in 2008 at the Dubai Desert Classic.

When Khalid Yousuf, a young Emirati and one of the country's leading amateur golfers, was asked whether he would ever consider turning professional, his answer was refreshingly candid.

"I decided not to try to turn professional because I prefer playing for the UAE team," he said. "I have played a few pro events before and felt that the pressure was just a bit too much.

"And that was only for fun, so imagine what it would be like if I was a professional and playing for money."

He has played twice in the Dubai Desert Classic, as well as the Abu Dhabi Championship and a tournament in Austria. He came away with the knowledge that the professional circuit was not for him.

"It's not that I didn't enjoy them," he said. "It's just that I think for me, personally, it was a bit too much."

Yousuf, 21, plays off scratch and has been identified by Chris Vallender, the coach of the Emirates Golf Federation, as a player with the talent, temperament and self-discipline to attempt the jump to the European or Asian tour.

But Yousuf said he is not prepared to make that step, and his views more or less represent those of his compatriots on the UAE's booming golf scene.

The three players who will join him on the UAE team for August's Nomura Cup in Fiji - Saif Thabet plus the brothers Abdulla and Ahmed al Musharrekh - are also in no rush to test themselves on a professional tour.

"I had the opportunity, but I decided to go back and finish my studies," Ahmed al Musharrekh said. "Maybe some day, if I feel like I'm good enough, I would go to Q School and I if I make it, I make it, if I don't, I don't. I can always pursue something else."

Thabet, a one-time UAE Olympic showjumping hopeful, acknowledged that turning pro is a daunting prospect.

"The thing is, with the UAE nationals, it is difficult for us to be dedicated full-time to golf," he said. "We have studying and work, as well. If we can manage our time and be able to focus more on golf then, definitely, our game would step up a couple of notches.

"The pro tour is an entirely different golfing word. When you are playing an amateur tournament within the UAE, it is totally different from going abroad and playing on international courses."

You would expect Vallender, a South African and a former pro himself, to be tearing his hair out that none of his proteges has taken the leap forward. However, he knows where his players stand.

"I understand where they are coming from and it's not a frustration for me," he said. "If the golfers want to become professional, myself and the board members and management will do all they can to help the guys.

"It would be great if they wanted to turn pro and I would never ever tell anyone they shouldn't try. If they decide they want to be a top amateur, then brilliant, I don't have a problem with that.

"I think the frustration comes from most of the UAE public, and by that I don't just mean the Emiratis, I mean expats as well. They see these talented youngsters and continually ask when they are going to turn professional."

He said that there is more to turning professional than some people might realise.

"The question gets put to [the players] and they say, 'I want to turn pro.' But when you sit them down and explain the realities of turning pro; it's not such an easy thing to do. It is not an easy life.

"You see the top 50 guys on television and you would think it's great. What you don't see is those players who miss cuts every week and it's actually costing them money.

"There is also a huge amount of work to be done Monday-to-Friday before they even get a break in a tournament. You basically give your life up to play golf and at a very early age. When the guys find out what it's all about, they think that it's not for them."

Asian golf is not without its roll models. KJ Choi, the South Korean is a bona-fide star, while professionals from places such as China and India are emerging. So why not someone come to the fore from the Middle East, particularly the UAE?

"The facilities here are ideal for that to happen," Vallender said of an Emirati emerging on the professional tour. "But in every aspect of life, be it sport or business, you can have the talent but you need the desire. You have the self-discipline to go out there and practice, but if the desire isn't there to break through barriers and get to the professional stage, it's not going to happen.

"I'm not questioning anyone's ability or discipline as I genuinely believe they have got all that. You can instil that into people to a certain degree; you can't with desire.

"There is no reason why the next big star, if you like, from a developing golfing country should emerge from the Middle East and the UAE, in particular. We have three of four guys who have the talent to do it.

"But, again, the question is whether they have the desire. There is a lot of sacrifice to be made."

UAE's  top four amateurs

Name Abdulla al Musharrekh
Club Emirates Golf Federation
Age 23
Handicap Scratch
His most recent victory came in the Dubai Duty Free UAE Nationals Cup last month at the Emirates Golf Club. One of three golfing brothers, he helped the UAE senior team finish second to Bahrain in the GGC Championship in March.

Name Ahmed al Musharrekh
Club Emirates Golf Federation
Age 20
Handicap Scratch
He became the first UAE national to qualify for a European Challenge Tour event, the Egyptian Open, in October 2010. He was a key member of the second-placed team in Bahrain and won the individual gold medal at the tournament.

Name Khalid Yousuf
Club Emirates Golf Club
Age 21
Handicap Scratch
He was only 18 when he made the field for the 2008 Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club as national champion. In doing so, he became the first Emirati to tee-off at the world-class event. He was a member of the team in Doha and three years ago won the Pan Arab Junior Championship in Egypt.

Name Saif Thabet
Club Abu Dhabi City Club
Age 23
Handicap Four
Thabet all but abandoned golf to become a member of the UAE’s equestrian team. He returned to the game six months ago, after a 12-year break. His handicap has already come down and he finished in runner-up spot to Abdulla in this year’s UAE Nationals Cup.

ncameron@thenational.ae