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)
Short Url
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.


Formula One season starts amid shadow of Black Lives Matter movement

Updated 02 July 2020

Formula One season starts amid shadow of Black Lives Matter movement

  • ‘It is so important that we seize this moment,’ says Lewis Hamilton, the only Black driver to become F1 champion

SPIELBERG, Austria: Four months after the opening race was called off at the last minute, the Formula One season finally gets underway this weekend on another continent and in a different-looking world.
There will be no fans on hand at the remote Spielberg track in Austria, with the coronavirus still creating uncertainty over how many races can actually be held — and where.
That may not be the only unusual sight, as drivers are discussing whether to take the knee together on the grid before Sunday’s race in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Defending F1 champion Lewis Hamilton has been an outspoken supporter of the movement and will be competing in an all-black Mercedes car — instead of the usual silver — as a statement against racism.
“It is so important that we seize this moment,” said Hamilton, the only Black driver to become F1 champion.
The truncated campaign kicks off with back-to-back races in Austria, as part of a hastily reworked schedule. It was meant to start nearly 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) away in the Australian city of Melbourne.
But the fast-spreading impact of the coronavirus pandemic led to the Australian GP being canceled on March 13, two days before the scheduled race, while people were still queuing for the first practice sessions. Several other races, including the showcase Monaco GP, were also canceled.
A rescue package with eight European races squeezed into 10 weeks, culminating with the Italian GP on Sept. 6, was scrambled together. F1 still hopes to rearrange some of the postponed races in order to finish the season with 15-18 of the scheduled 22.
There will also be two consecutive races at the British GP. If the season continues beyond Europe, it will end with races in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi in December.
“We actually don’t even know the amount of races we are going to do,” McLaren and future Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. said. “It’s an unprecedented scenario.”
Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring, cut off from major towns or cities, offers a reassuringly secluded feel amid coronavirus fears.
But strict health and safety measures have been put into place.
Everyone entering the track, including a greatly reduced number of media representatives, must have tested negative for Covid-19 and further tests will be carried out every five days. F1 teams are not allowed to mingle with each other — on or off the track — and media have no access to F1’s paddock area.
Drivers would normally have faced a barrage of questions in a news conference room, but health requirements dictate that drivers hold news conferences via video link and with questions sent in advance.
And, of course, Spielberg’s 4.3-kilometer (2.7-mile) circuit will be largely empty. It is normally swarming with tents, camper vans, makeshift barbecues and tens of thousands of orange-shirted Max Verstappen fans.
The Red Bull driver, hugely popular back home in the Netherlands, has won the past two races here.
The track is among the shortest in F1 but also one of the most aggressive. Drivers spend about 72% of the time at full throttle, second only to Italy’s Monza track with 77%.
That’s perfectly suited to Verstappen’s bold and abrasive racing style. Last season he chased down the leading trio before making a typically brazen overtaking move on race leader Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari.
The 22-year-old Verstappen showed last season that he is closing the gap to Hamilton in terms of wheel-to-wheel driving. Red Bull’s car also made a considerable jump in speed, while Ferrari’s faded, and Verstappen is emerging as a major title threat to Hamilton.
The 35-year-old British driver is chasing a record-equaling seventh F1 title to equal Michael Schumacher’s record, and only needs to win eight more races to beat Schumacher’s mark of 91.
Aside from Verstappen and possibly Valtteri Bottas — Hamilton’s improving teammate at Mercedes — the other main challenger is Leclerc.
The 22-year-old Monaco driver is extremely quick and impressed observers in his first season at Ferrari with seven pole positions — two more than Hamilton — and two wins.
He is now Ferrari’s No. 1 ahead of four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, whose star has faded after he wasted mid-season leads in 2017 and 2018 and lost those titles to Hamilton.
The German veteran is leaving at the end of the year after failing to agree on a new contract, and his future in F1 is uncertain.
Like so many other things this season.