x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

New-look Khaled Yousuf eager for success in Abu Dhabi

Ahead of the tournament in the capital, the UAE-raised amateur has high hopes after shedding 16 kilos in four months.

The English-born Emirati Yousuf prepares ahead of the Abu Dhabi Championship at the National Course.
The English-born Emirati Yousuf prepares ahead of the Abu Dhabi Championship at the National Course.

Joining Phil Mickelson and the other majors winners in the field for the final two days of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at the National Course this week may seem fanciful for Khalid Yousuf, the English-born, UAE-raised amateur.

But the 21-year-old is no stranger to achieving goals and he has set his sights on making the cut after the first two days of play.

As a teenager under the tutelage of the then national team coach Wayne Johnson he reduced his handicap from 21 to seven in the space of a year.

"Wayne didn't change my swing, which most coaches try to do - he just worked with what I had," Yousuf said.

More recently, he shed 16kg in weight after attending the gym every day for four months.

"He has worked very hard to get himself in great physical shape," Johnson said. "He was always very heavy set as a kid and struggled to keep the weight off. I remember when we went to a coaching clinic in America I had to tie him to the treadmill and stop him from eating cheesecake."

Feeling "more flexible and fitter than I have ever done" Yousuf has the appetite for success. Combining a career as the UAE's top amateur golfer while studying for an undergraduate degree in finance, Yousuf is a young man who relishes a challenge. Mastering the National Course in the capital over the next two days, could be his toughest yet.

"It's a long course and the greens are quite tricky and undulating," Yousuf said. "I just hope the rough is not too long this year. It also gets quite windy up there and with the weather the way it is, it could be quite tricky."

Yousuf claims he has played the course "no more than 10 times" and was hoping to familiarise himself with the challenges the par-72 course poses with a couple of practice rounds before he tees off tomorrow.

"I played the course recently and it seems harder," he said. "They have lengthened it, widened it and added some bunkers so it's going to be tough. I'm really excited, It will be my first time playing in this event and I can't wait as it's such a strong field with so many major winners."

Yousuf was handed his place in the field alongside the likes of Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter after being handed a wild-card entry by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.

"I'd like to make the cut," Yousuf said. "If I play well and to my potential I feel I have a chance. I have just got to make sure I hit the fairways and make my putts. It's always important I take my time and not rush."

Johnson certainly feels Yousuf has the tools to give a good account of himself.

"Khalid has a great temperament, he is very smart and a very intelligent kid and has an amazing short game," Johnson said. "He is not intimidated by the moment or by playing with the game's top players, and that's one of his real assets."

Citing his short game and putting as the strongest parts of his armoury, Yousuf believes the field's big hitters and fairway splitters should flourish over the next four days.

"With the exception of Chris Di Marco, in the past long hitters like Martin Kaymer, Paul Casey have won it so I'm not sure it does favour those with a good short game," Yousuf said.

Yousuf is no stranger to pacing the fairways with the game's elite. He received a wild-card entry at the Dubai Desert Classic in 2008 and 2009 but the quality of the company failed to inspire him. "I did not play that great," he said of his rounds of 81, 82, 77 and 81. "My game was still very immatute then."

Now three months past his 21st birthday, Yousuf will arrive in Abu Dhabi this week as a leaner and more rounded golfer for the experience.

"The Desert Classic made me realise how good the pros are," Yousuf said. "They don't hit it that much further but it's just they are so consistence. They are also so focused on their practice."

In an effort to aid his development, Yousuf has actively sought the advice of Dubai regulars Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy at the Emirates Golf Club and Jumeirah Golf Estates respectively. He also nips across the Sheikh Zayed Road in between lectures at the American University to practice every day at Emirates Golf Club.

"They have been a good sounding board," Yousuf said. "They are always willing to listen and pass on tips. I also had a practice round with Greg Norman once. He told me too keep practising my short game and work on my concentration and not worry about what others are doing."

Asked if he had aspirations of turning professional, Yousuf said: "I'm not sure if I want to turn pro but I would like too if my game suddenly takes off. I have one year left of degree work so I have something to fall back on if it doesn't work out.

"If I stay amateur it will be fine as I get a lot of privileges. I get to play at nice courses, do a lot of travelling, play for the UAE and practice and play at some great courses."

Johnson described Yousuf as "a great ambassador for UAE golf", adding: "He does not seem to have any real desire to turn pro. I don't think he has the desire to commit the time, effort, determination to the game, but I think he can be a very successful amateur. I remember I asked him about turning pro when I first worked with him and he said he wanted to be an investment banker."