JEDDAH: Golf Saudi announced the professional and amateur invitations on Wednesday for the Saudi International, powered by Softbank Investment Advisers, to take place Feb. 4-7 at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City.
Invitees will get the chance to compete alongside a world-class field including world No. 1 and 2020 Masters champion Dustin Johnson, 2020 US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau as well as leading Europeans Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry, Tyrrell Hatton, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood and defending champion Graeme McDowell.
Saudi Arabia’s Othman Almulla made history in 2019 when he became the first golfer from the Kingdom to turn professional and compete internationally and is receiving his third invitation from Golf Saudi to compete in one of the European Tour’s leading events. Saud Al-Sharif will be the second Saudi player in the field, securing his invite as the leading amateur golfer in Saudi Arabia, having impressed on the 2020 MENA Tour, where he shot the lowest round of the day on the fourth event of the 2020 season. He also finished second in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Championship in Oman at the start of the year.
Al-Sharif said: “We are very fortunate to have such a high-profile event in our country, and I feel very honored to be representing Saudi Arabia in a field of such high-quality global golfers. This will be my third time playing, and each year I gain such invaluable insight into what it takes to be a top golfer. I hope that all the work I have been putting into my game since last year pays off and I can make everyone proud by becoming the first player from the Kingdom to make the cut.”
One of golf’s most talked-about rising stars, America’s Akshay Bhatia, who turns 19 at the end of January, will also be in the lineup alongside his hero, Phil Mickelson. Formerly the US’s top-ranked junior, Bhatia turned professional after becoming the first high-school student to compete on the US Walker Cup team in 2019 and is already well-known for his impressive ball-striking and 125-mile-an-hour swing speed.
England’s Harry Hall, who also made his professional debut following the 2019 Walker Cup, has just completed his first year as a professional, having concentrated largely on the PGA Korn Ferry Tour, where he impressed with three top-ten finishes. As he looks to gain his full status on the European Tour, this will offer a wonderful opportunity.
Joining their fellow countryman and defending Open champion Shane Lowry, and boosting the Irish representation in the field, are Paul Dunne and Cormac Sharvin. Dunne is a European Tour winner while Sharvin secured his European Tour card through finishing the 2019 Challenge Tour season in 11th position on the Road to Mallorca Rankings following eight top-ten and six top-five finishes.
The final professional invitation goes to Japan’s Takumi Kanaya, the most exciting talent to join the professional ranks in 2020. A former No. 1 on the World Amateur Golf Rankings, Kanaya only turned professional in October and immediately underlined his potential by winning the Dunlop Phoenix Masters on the Japan Golf Tour in only his fourth start as a professional.
Kanaya commented: “I am very thankful to the Saudi Golf Federation for extending me this invitation. It will be a very important experience to play alongside so many of the best players in the world and a huge opportunity for me. One of my goals this year is to earn my European Tour card, so I will be hoping for a strong showing on my first visit to Saudi Arabia.”
Golf Saudi continues to showcase the stars of tomorrow with two more amateur invitations: one for Jordan’s Shergo Kurdi and the other for Spain’s Eduard Rousaud Sabate. Kurdi, a 17-year-old amateur, became the first player from the GCC and the Middle East to earn Official World Golf Ranking points with his runner-up finish on the MENA Tour at the Journey to Jordan tournament held at the Ayla Golf Club in Aqaba. Sabate currently sits at a career-high No. 4 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, having won twice in 2020, joining his fellow countrymen Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Sergio Garcia.
With a lineup that looks set to ensure that the Saudi International will be one of the strongest events on the 2021 European Tour schedule, Golf Saudi is looking to build on the momentum resulting from hosting two extremely successful weeks of Ladies European Tour events last November as interest and participation in golf continues to grow in the Kingdom.
Majed Al-Sorour, CEO of the Saudi Golf Federation and Golf Saudi, said: “We are very excited to announce these invitations for the upcoming Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers. The inclusion of these players will inspire the next generation to follow in their footsteps and support our goal to grow the game of golf in the Kingdom.
“As we embark on the third edition of our tournament, it feels right that we are also supporting so many young international players who look set to be the stars of tomorrow. We hope their experience [in] Saudi Arabia will be their first of many visits and they will be part of our journey [toward developing] a vibrant and sustainable golfing nation.”