RIYADH: Saudi golfer Saud Alsharif believes having the sport's best players competing in Saudi Arabia is key to the development and growth of the game in the Kingdom.
World number one Dustin Johnson will be joined by the likes of US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau as well as European superstars Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia at the Saudi International in February.
Royal Greens Golf Club will host the third edition of the event, which is once again one of the opening events on the European Tour calendar.
Johnson won the first Saudi International in 2019, recording an impressive 19 under par, whilst Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell secured victory at last year’s tournament.
“Players like Dustin (Johnson) and Brooks (Koepka) coming to Saudi is a real honour and I really do wish I can play with any of these guys – they are massive stars in world golf. For golf fans in Saudi to see Dustin Johnson and others is incredible – they are some of the best sportsmen in the world, Alsharif said.
“Three years ago we didn’t have any big, global event in Saudi and right now we have the biggest golf event in the Middle East with the biggest field so it really is booming. It really does help the golf community in Saudi Arabia and encourage more people to take this up.”
Growing up in the region, Saud didn’t have anywhere near the same accessibility to coaches or facilities as today’s young hopefuls – and he has called on more young potential stars to make the most of what is available to them throughout Saudi Arabia and the wider region.
“Right now golf in Saudi Arabia is better than I could have ever imagined it. We have everything we need to go out and play the best golf we can. We’ve got coaching throughout the game, including on the mental side of the game,” he said.
“We’ve also got great facilities too and its exciting that there is young talent coming through.
“Previously it used to be travelling to play in local events with a lot less coaching and a team gathering every three or four months in Riyadh – that was pretty much it. Now we have good relationships with our coaches where we can see them more and the team can sign us up to compete in more events too.
Whatever you wish for, it is there, so there is no excuse for us not to go out there and play well,” he added.
Tournament preparations have been different this time around due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions placed on competitions and travel, but Alsharif said that has had limited impact on his own confidence as he looks to improve on previous years in the competition.
“It’s been very quiet with COVID and travel so we haven’t been able to play. I played an event in Bahrain last month which was nice to get into. Unfortunately, I lost in the play-off but I keep working very hard with Jamie (McDonnell, coach and caddy). I can’t see him at the moment, but we communicate a lot,” he said.
“I’m very excited but I’m also really relaxed going into this event. I know I haven’t played a lot of events recently but I have so much confidence in my game right now because of the practice over the year.
“One thing that stood out last year was my decision making on the course and the caddy/player relationship and how we talked on the course.
“It’s a big part of the game and its important. You need a good caddy and Jamie was there for me and he did such a great job for me last year on this course.
“I went from shooting 85 to 75,and that is all down to decision making. I was going into the first round very excited, taking on shots and not really taking on the game plan and managing it as we discussed.
“That really affected me on the first day but on the second day it was the complete opposite, I was completely relaxed and I listened to my caddy and the results showed that,” he added.
Saud will be joined by fellow Saudi Othman Almulla as the two local representatives competing at the tournament, which runs Feb. 4-7.
For more information visit www.saudiinternational.com