RIYADH: The Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers returns to King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) from January 30 — February 2. Arab News caught up with the big-hitting Dustin Johnson ahead of the European Tour event at Royal Greens & Country Club.
How are you feeling going into the Saudi International after a short spell out with injury?
I’m feeling very good. My knee has recovered well during the off season and I am anxious to get out on the course again. I have been working hard on my game over the last month or so and I am ready to get back to competition. It was a fun event last year and somewhat close over those final few holes, which made it exciting.
You must be excited to return to Saudi after winning the competition last year — what stood out for you from the victory?
Yes, of course. It’s always nice to go back to return to a tournament where you have good memories and my 61 in the second round was one of the best rounds of my year. I was surprised at how good the course was in the first year of playing the event and the hospitality in the country was second to none.
What surprised you about the competition in Saudi Arabia last year and how would you sum up the experience in the country?
Nothing really surprised me about the competition because we all know that it was a world-class field. I loved playing here last year and the field is looking even stronger this year. It’s is great to see a few more Americans making the trip over, which just shows how the tournament is gaining momentum and acceptance.
Last year was the first time the competition was held in Saudi Arabia, do you expect bigger crowds this year and what part can fans play in a Championship?
It was great to see so many people coming to watch us play last year and I hope the turnout will be even bigger this year. The crowds were fantastic and with all of the music concerts also lined up for this year, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
There are more top players competing in the Championship this year – are you confident of recording another victory in Saudi?
I don’t worry about the competition and about defending the trophy and just try to focus on my own preparation. If I play my best golf, I know I’ll have a chance to defend. I have managed to defend a title once before in my career, which is always challenging, so I don’t put any extra emphasis on it and just approach it like any other week.
How important is it for golf to be coming to Saudi Arabia and bring the game into new markets?
It is always good to introduce the game in new markets and although I play the majority of my golf in the US, it is nice come across to the Middle East to compete against such a strong field. Golf Saudi has a really cool vision for the sport in the next ten years and, it will be great to come back to this event in years to come.
Many people in Saudi Arabia will not have attended a golf championship. What can they expect, and what do fans get from watching the golf live and up close that is just impossible to experience through the TV?
It will be great to see more fans coming out to watch again this year. They are able to see what we go through on the course, how we decide which club to hit and experience the excitement of the competition, which is something you can’t really replicate on TV. It is always nice to interact with the fans, sign some autographs and hopefully improve the fans’ experience at the tournament.
More young people in Saudi Arabia are watching sport or taking up sport. What would you say to encourage them to take up golf and what can they learn from the sport?
Just get out there and play and have fun. It’s a great sport that anyone can enjoy for a lifetime. There is more than one way to swing the club and if you watch a few different golfers this week at the Saudi International you will see this for your own eyes.