x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Wira Salleh is inspiring the next generation

The 27-year-old from Brunei is one of only four professional golfers from his country, but he hopes there will be many more.

Wira Salleh is playing at the Ras Al Khaimah Classic.
Wira Salleh is playing at the Ras Al Khaimah Classic.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Take a cursory glance through the 102-man field for the Ras Al Khaimah Classic and you may miss the nationality of a certain Wira Salleh.

The 27-year-old professional does not form one of the Mena Tour's eight-strong Pakistani contingent. Neither is he competing alongside 23 Moroccan compatriots. Nor would he include as countrymen any of the large collection of Englishmen this week at Tower Links Golf Club.

Instead, Salleh is flying the flag for Brunei, the modest sovereign state on the north coast of Borneo that, until now, did not feature predominantly in golfing consciousness.

"We've about 200 people playing the game on four courses in our country," said Salleh, who currently sits 65th of 74 in the Order of Merit. "Including me, there's only four professionals, so I feel I have a job to do to help inspire the next generation."

Salleh's relative success - he has been a mainstay of his regional tour since turning professional in 2010, the year after he began contesting the Asian Tour's Brunei Open - is convincing more juniors to swap football, the country's great sporting passion, for golf.

"The number of young players is increasing and we're looking forward to them coming through," Salleh said. "Everyone plays football but now golf is second. People see it as an exclusive game, a gentleman's game, so they want to be involved.

"It's my role to provide a good example for the juniors, give them golf tips and advice, and hopefully we see more taking the next step. It's tough, though, as sponsorship is difficult to attract. You need to perform consistently to get noticed."

No matter which part of the world you hail from, however, golfing ambitions remain universal.

"I want to get some Ws [wins]," Salleh said. "I don't have lofty expectations, but that's the ultimate goal."

jmcauley@thenational.ae