KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: Amateur golfers Saud Alsharif and Faisal Salhab said they are both excited about playing alongside the biggest names in the sport and making the cut at the Saudi International tournament to be held later this month.
The Saudi International returns to the Kingdom for its second year and will be hosted at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC). It has 72 holes, 132 players and a $3.5 million prize pool.
“I feel very lucky to be here again,” Alsharif told Arab News. “This is a big opportunity that I can take and play very well. I think it’s not a tough thing to do. It’s just a matter of keeping your head and playing your game. Nothing is guaranteed in golf. I’m sure that if I play well and have confidence I think I’m gonna do it (make the cut) this year.” The 20-year-old Saudi qualified for the second edition of the European Tour event, set for Jan. 30 to Feb. 2, through his top ranking on the national team.
Salhab, who is 23 and made the grade by winning the 5th Saudi Open at Riyadh Golf Courses, said preparations were going well. “We have a coach out here and great training sources in Dubai right now,” he told Arab News. “It’s been a month and a half training with our coach. We’ll do our best to make the cut. To be sure, we’re going to be stressed. That’s the reality. You should know how to work, to play under stress. That’s the beauty of the game. That’s all we need to do.”
The youthful Saudi duo were speaking to the media on Monday while at a training camp at the KAEC golf facility as part of their final preparations under the watchful eye of coach Jamie McConnell, director of instruction at the Claude Harmon Golf Academy in Dubai, who has been working with the Saudi national golf team since November.
“They’ve got game,” McConnell told Arab News. “I think they just have to trust their ability. They will be more than able to make the cut. As long as they take it easy and be calm in their approach there’s no reason they can’t. While Faisal has the natural power, Saud hits it a long way and really has the speed when you consider his build. He really hits the ball hard.”
During Monday’s practice round McConnell said Alsharif was 1-under and Salhab even par.
“We’re going to work strategy on the golf course. The wind will play a big part. One thing I noticed today is that it’s calmer in the morning, very windy in the afternoon and the golf course is completely changed,” he added.
“First time I’ve been here. It’s stunning … almost like the Mirage (a golfer’s paradise in Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia),” McConnell said of Royal Greens, a gem of a course along the Red Sea coastline.
Salhab shared his thoughts on the changing Saudi golf landscape.
“We have to be thankful that we have this all of a sudden, and it’s amazing. It’s unreal. If you look at the national team players, the fire that’s under them, they never had this fire. They never thought that this could be a life to live. To get into golf. There is an ecosystem that we never used to have. We now have the national men’s team, women’s team, under-13s and under-15s. A lot of new golf courses are being planned. Who’s going to play in them? That is why we have to have a good program. To really push them,” he said.
Completing the Saudi trio taking on elite golfers including Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson is veteran Othman Almulla, who will be playing on a pro invite.