x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Pakistan golfer's devotion to a game he loves

Shafiq Masih hopes to secure another winner's cheque on Mena Tour.

Shafiq Masih in action during the  Ras Al Khaimah Classic at the Tower Links Golf Club.
Shafiq Masih in action during the Ras Al Khaimah Classic at the Tower Links Golf Club.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Shafiq Masih is the first to admit local knowledge played a key role in his opening Mena Tour triumph last week.

The Pakistan No 6, a former golf instructor at Dirab Golf and Country Club, returned to the familiar fairways of his "home course" in Saudi Arabia to seal a play-off victory and move third in the Order of Merit.

It is an adage that familiarity breeds success, yet Masih attributes the new trophy to something altogether more influential.

"I'm a really faithful man," he said at the Ras Al Khaimah Classic, only days after his Dirab Golf Championship win. "I believe so much that God is always helping me. I believe, thanks to God, I have some special power, a special feel."

It is a statement that bears no arrogance. For Masih, religion is as integral an instrument in his profession as any seven-iron, or a pitching wedge. A remarkable career trajectory validates the Lahore-born golfer's devotion.

Masih, whose surname, fittingly, means "Jesus" in Urdu, would first sample the game as a starry-eyed spectator aged 10, watching his cousin, Hafeez, play tournaments.

Then, against his father's wishes, he became a caddie to continue his golfing education, and at 17 contested a competition solely for bagmen, finishing second. Members of the Lahore Gymkhana Golf Club, one of the oldest in Pakistan, were soon offering Masih any assistance necessary - clubs, equipment, money - to sculpt his already considerable talent.

Having excelled locally, the decision to turn professional was taken at the turn of the century. Yet with the new millennium came comprehension of the sacrifices required to follow his passion.

"Before I was a child in the game so I was not really sure what professional life meant," Masih said. "I just started because I liked golf. But after 2000 I began to really understand golf. Once I understood it, I knew I had to practise very hard for good results to come."

Masih, fearful of the financial instability of pro golf, chose instead to coach, which in 2008 brought him to Dirab.

Last week's win there not only gave the 36 year old confidence and kudos - his phone has been inundated with messages of congratulations - but a cheque for US$9,000 (Dh33,000).

His ambition to raise enough money to compete in January's Asian Tour Qualifying School is almost realised. Funding his career has, as it has for many of his compatriots, proved problematic, but he now has sponsors in Pakistan and Dubai. His golf has befitted markedly.

"I attracted sponsors only five months ago so before that I had a lot of pressure," Masih said. "I didn't perform, especially in my home events in Pakistan.

"I was a little confused because I was practising hard and playing, playing, playing, and I didn't see the results. But I believed it would work; if not tomorrow, then the day after; that soon it would come.

"My faith is that strong and I knew I'd get there eventually. God has given me a gift. For that I'm extremely thankful."