Growth of golf in the Kingdom key to young Saudi star’s home tournament preparation

Saud Alsharif, 20, will line-up alongside golf’s biggest names when he tees-off in the second annual edition of Saudi Arabia’s only professional tournament. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 January 2020

Growth of golf in the Kingdom key to young Saudi star’s home tournament preparation

  • Saud aged only 19 failed to qualify for last year's weekend’s final two days
  • Saud remains undaunted by high-profile opposition, taking the opportunity in his stride

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s leading young golfer has revealed that the Kingdom’s increasing love of the game has been pivotal in his preparation for what he hopes will be a successful return to this month’s Saudi International.
Saud Alsharif, 20, will line up alongside golf’s biggest names when he tees-off in the second annual edition of Saudi Arabia’s only professional tournament, held at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City from Jan. 30 through to Feb 2.
It is the second year in a row that Saud – who has been a member of the Saudi National Golf Team for five years – will compete in $3,500,000 prize-pool European Tour contest.
At last year’s inaugural event, Saud – then aged only 19 – failed to qualify for the weekend’s final two days after a disappointing second round.
However, he believes that he returns to the 2020 tournament a much more developed player – and attributes that to the support and backing of the growing golfing community in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East.
Saud said: “I played decent last year. It was pretty tough as playing in such a big event was very new to me. I was expecting a lot from myself, which I think actually weighed me down a bit. But this time I’m going to go in fresh, with the same high expectations, but trusting my game and I believe that will allow me to play well.
“The golf community in Saudi is very, very supportive. We get players at a young age into the game and try and make them love the game. We have very talented players coming through the ranks and we will keep on growing with the community and the support we get around it.
“Our National Team coaches too are very, very good guys. I’ve benefitted so much from just seeing them even in the last month alone, and I played really well in [recent competitions in] Morocco and Oman.
“We’re just trying to work on our mentality with coach Jamie McConnell, who’ll be my caddie at the Saudi International. There’s nothing to worry about in terms of my technique at the moment – it’s all about keeping my head in the game and that’s what I need to do.”
Saud will be rubbing shoulders with golfing icons including World No. 1 Brooks Koepka, defending Saudi International champion Dustin Johnson, current Open champion Shane Lowry, and US fan-favourite Phil Mickelson.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, and four-times major winning South African Ernie Els are some of the other household names competing.
Saud remains undaunted by the opposition and is taking the opportunity in his stride – and even believes playing alongside the world’s best golfers can only improve his game.
“It is very, very good for us to have this caliber of players playing in the second Saudi International. It’s a real pleasure for me to be part of that field, and I would love to take the opportunity to play well. I think the tournament is going to keep helping Saudi golf and benefit the community around it,” he said.
“I always tell myself that if I play with better players, I am only going to benefit from that. That is the mentality every kid should have, especially if they want to take the game on more seriously. You should always seek to play with better players, no matter the age difference. Just try and be competitive.”
Saud – who hopes to become a professional – continued: “Golf should always be fun. If you’re not having fun, then you should reset and see what’s going wrong. It can be a difficult sport to learn at the start, so it’s important at that point to try and surround yourself with people that motivate you. I’ve loved golf from a young age and I just want to keep on getting better, which motivates me. For the young kids, the golf community here is always so supportive, so they should get out and play.”
Saud has just completed a month’s training with the Saudi Arabian Golf Federation-backed National Golf Team at the at the Claude Harman School in Dubai. He trained alongside amateur teammate Faisal Salhab, who will also compete in the SoftBank Investment Advisers-sponsored Saudi International.
Completing the contingent of Saudi players lining-up in the tournament will be the Kingdom’s first and only professional player, Othman Almulla.


Coronavirus pause could force global football to change

Updated 03 April 2020

Coronavirus pause could force global football to change

  • The sudden interruption has exposed the deficiencies of a system intoxicated by huge sums of money

PARIS: Football has ground to a halt due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)  pandemic, and the immediate concern is the simple survival of many clubs because of the financial impact, but there is hope that the global game could ultimately emerge better from this crisis.

“We are living through something none of us were used to and which will change us profoundly,” Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti told Corriere dello Sport.

Not since World War II has the sport been forced to stop across Europe. The sudden interruption has exposed the deficiencies of a system intoxicated by huge sums of money.

Cutbacks are inevitable in the short term.

“TV money will go down, players and coaches will earn less. Tickets will cost less because people will have less money. The economy will be different and so will football. Maybe it will be better,” said Ancelotti.

“As with most things, crisis is an opportunity,” football historian and academic David Goldblatt, author of recent book The Age of Football, told AFP, before sounding a warning.

“It could actually get worse. For there to be real change there has to be a change in the way power and ownership is distributed in the game.”

At the moment the financial power belongs to the lucky few at the top, but even they are being hurt. That is likely to affect the transfer market, and huge spending sprees on players could become a thing of the past.

“In two or three years, it will not be possible to spend the sums we have been seeing because every country will be affected. In all likelihood a new footballing world will emerge from this,” insisted former Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness.

Already players at Barcelona — the richest club in the world — have agreed to a 70 percent pay cut. Clubs across Europe are taking similar measures.

It is evidence that clubs, even in the elite, have been living on the edge, and it raises the question of whether salary caps could finally be seen as a way forward, despite the difficulties presented by EU rules.

In Germany, the Bundesliga’s four Champions League representatives this season have pledged €20 million ($22 million) to help crisis-hit clubs in an encouraging sign of solidarity.

Meanwhile, lessons may also be learned about how TV revenue is distributed in the future.

It may also be time to rework the fixture calendar. The fashion for expanding existing tournaments — like staging a 48-team World Cup and 24-team Club World Cup — is surely not sustainable.

“It is now high time that we find some rules to say ok, let’s get out of this crisis as well as we can, but let’s also put safeguards in that manage player loads successfully moving forward,” warned Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, general secretary of global players’ union FIFPro, as he called for “a much healthier setup than we what have had lately.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has acknowledged the calls for change, telling La Gazzetta dello Sport that “we can perhaps reform world football by taking a step back. With different formats. Fewer tournaments, maybe fewer teams, but more balanced.”

Goldblatt, meanwhile, believes FIFA need to look again at plans to stage a 48-team World Cup in 2026 all across North America.

That, and the European Championship that UEFA intend to stage in 12 cities across the continent, are being planned in ways which appear at odds with the need to face up to another imminent threat: Climate change.

“If we have learned anything from the last couple of months it is that we should listen to the scientists,” Goldblatt says. “We need to hit the pause button on all of this and have a massive rethink.”