Sana Tufail, a UAE-based teenager, will represent England alongside the best young European golfers at the European Young Masters.
Young golfer's long drive to represent England
ABU DHABI // Sana Tufail will have more on her mind than most students might this summer after completing their exams. The schoolgirl from Abu Dhabi will be contemplating a future in golf representing England alongside the best young European golfers at the European Young Masters (EYM) in Hungary.
The 15 year old, a Yas Links junior member and a student at the British School Al Khubairat, was selected in May after a remarkable season in which she won 10 consecutive Ladies Order of Merit events, a Middle East amateurs record. All this as she was preparing for her GCSEs.
"I'm really delighted to be given the opportunity," she said, soon after tackling her physics exam. "I'll take everything step by step, shot by shot. It's going to be a learning experience but I am very excited to have been given the offer."
Sana began playing golf at the age of four at the Abu Dhabi Golf and Equestrian Club (now called the Abu Dhabi City Golf Club).
"She saw that I was trying to play," said her father Haris B Tufail, "and her brother Saad is a very keen golfer as well."
Her entire game has been honed and developed on courses in the UAE.
"They had a very active junior programme at the club," recalled Haris. "She became more serious about it at the age of 12 and she had a handicap when she was 11."
Surprisingly for her slight build - she is approximately 1.5 metres - one of her coaches believes her long game is actually the stronger suit.
"She's on the small side for a lady player but she still manages to hit the golf ball a lot further than many," said Justin Parsons, director of instruction at the Butch Harmon school in Dubai where she has been for nearly three years.
At the Dubai Ladies Masters, she hit a 240-yard drive: "If I was her size I could never hit it that far," said Parsons, who works individually with her on her ball-striking.
"Her long play in general and driving, it's quite unusual for a girl of her build to have that as the strong part of her game. We've tried to take her short game up to where her long game is."
Parsons is also impressed by her commitment to the game - "she immerses herself into her golf and would do anything it takes to become a better player" and it is this that has led to her selection.
Playing mostly in the UAE meant there was a danger of her not getting on the radar of England selection, but she travels to the UK regularly to play and earlier this year she contacted the English Women's Golf Association to signal her intent to represent them.
"She is a member of an English club and county and she comes over and plays in our girls championship every summer," said Linda Bayman, the association's performance director. "We don't see her for more than about six weeks a year but all through the winter, she's been sending scores and results and we thought that merited her a chance at EYM. We've always been very impressed by her and in the end, the only way we are going to see her play at that level is put her in and give her a go."
Bayman believes Sana will have to make a decision at some point soon about spending more time in the UK within the country's coaching set-up if she is to progress further. Parsons believes she can and Sana herself wants to turn professional but later, "when I am older because education comes first".
"It's a long journey and this is just part of it," her father Haris said. "She's played with professionals and talked with them. She recognises professional golf is a tough life."
Balancing her studies with golf - she still has a month to go before finishing all her exams - is probably not much easier.
"If you're well-organised it's not too difficult," she said.