Arab amateur golfers make their mark at PIF Saudi International

El Mehdi Fakori of Morocco during the PIF Saudi International. (Golf Saudi)
El Mehdi Fakori of Morocco during the PIF Saudi International. (Golf Saudi)
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Updated 05 February 2023

Arab amateur golfers make their mark at PIF Saudi International

Arab amateur golfers make their mark at PIF Saudi International
  • Egypt’s Issa Abou El-Ela, Morocco’s El Mehdi Fakori make cut at Asian Tour event
  • “Nothing’s out of reach,” Egyptian says after breakthrough

JEDDAH: It may be a battle at the top of the leaderboard between Abraham Ancer and Cameron Young, but two young Arabs also made their mark at the PIF Saudi International this week.

Amateurs Issa Abou El-Ela of Egypt and El Mehdi Fakori of Morocco both made the cut at the Asian Tour’s flagship event against some of the best golfers in the world.

“From my perspective, it hasn’t sunk in, but I think it’s just a great thing for confidence,” Abou El-Ela said.

“At the end of the day, it’s more about the whole Arab community. It’s not just me, it’s more of a sign that we can do it. We now have Faisal, Saud, Othman and Shergo who are all professionals competing out here too.

“I’m obviously over the moon to make the cut but it just shows that as Arabs we have a chance to shine on the global stage and it doesn’t have to be at football.

“Now we have a chance to show it, and with the support of Golf Saudi and the Arab Golf Federation, I don’t see why in five to 10 years, even past me, we see one of our juniors in the Arab community winning one of these.”

Fakori also finished the week on a high, shooting a four-under 66 in the final round on Sunday.

“I felt less pressure today and gave the course the proper respect that it deserved from the first hole. Unlike yesterday, I was playing for birdies,” he said.

Both men said they were grateful to the International Series for the opportunity to play against some of the world’s best golfers, including Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Cameron Smith and Bryson Dechambeau.

“I’m very happy to be playing with the world’s best players,” Fakori said. “I’m playing with them and getting the firsthand experience to learn what I need. But when I’m in the field I am only focusing on myself and my own game.”

Abou El-Ela, who birdied the last hole at Royal Greens to make the cut, said: “A bunch of the guys on the Asian tour I’ve known for a while since the International Series have been taking me under their wing, like Richard Lee and a lot of other guys, so I’ve just started to feel more comfortable on this tour. I’ve seen a lot of these players succeed before and it just made me thirstier to do better.”

The 28-year-old Egyptian added: “I’m just trying to help build a way just to prove that nothing’s out of reach … obviously we have a lot of young talented juniors from all the countries around the Middle East, I’ve seen it in Pan Arabs, I’ve seen it day in and day out.”

In a message to those aspiring to make the top grade, he said: “You have so many opportunities and I just think we have a chance, so don’t let any obstacles like not finding a college or you can’t find a coach get in your way. You are what you make yourself, so just keep fighting and one day we’ll see one of these juniors here and I can't wait to watch myself.”

Fakori added: “You need to respect the sport, you need to be disciplined and consistent. There’s no one better than the other, there’s just a player who’s more consistent.”

The other Arab golfers in the field this week were Faisal Salhab, Saud Alsharif and Othman Almulla of Saudi Arabia — the first two of whom were making their professional debuts — Baha Boulakmine of Tunisia, Jamal Allali and Adam Bresnu of Morocco, and Shergo Al-Kurdi of Jordan.

The next stop for Abou El-Ela and Fakori is the International Series Oman, which starts on Thursday, and where they will line up against the likes of Brooks Koepka, Joaquin Niemann, Louis Oosthuizen, Eugenio Chacarra and Carlos Ortiz.

LIV Golf’s merger with PGA Tour set to usher in prosperous new era for the sport

LIV Golf’s merger with PGA Tour set to usher in prosperous new era for the sport
Updated 06 June 2023

LIV Golf’s merger with PGA Tour set to usher in prosperous new era for the sport

LIV Golf’s merger with PGA Tour set to usher in prosperous new era for the sport
  • After a lengthy and bitter dispute between the two sides, the agreement offers vindication for the PIF-backed tour

DUBAI: The most bitter war to engulf a sport that has been around for more than six centuries came to a surprising, and welcome, end on Tuesday when the North American PGA Tour and European DP World Tour shook hands on a deal with the Saudi Public Investment Fund-backed LIV Golf.

It has been a tumultuous 12 months for men’s professional golf since the 48-player league was launched with a tournament in England a year ago this week. The newcomer sharply divided opinions, forcing players and lovers of the sport to take sides. But it also quickly gained acceptance, and a significant fan base, as a much-needed alternative to the usual tour events.

Vehemently opposed to the idea of an upstart organization threatening its established territory, the PGA Tour banned from its events all players who joined LIV Golf. This led to legal challenges on both sides, and players denigrating one another. Major championships and sponsors were asked to choose sides. The very legality of tournaments such as the Ryder Cup and institutions such as the Official World Golf Ranking was being questioned.

In short, the usually prim and proper world of golf was in shambles. However, the Public Investment Fund was vindicated for its belief in its product on Tuesday, when the PGA Tour agreeing to merge their commercial interests.

The exact details were sparse in the joint press release that was issued but a decision has been made to form a new, yet-to-be-named, for-profit entity. The two tours and the PIF will “implement a plan to grow these combined commercial businesses, drive greater fan engagement and accelerate growth initiatives already underway.”

The good news is that LIV Golf will continue to exist and now benefit from the PGA Tour’s full pool of players and its mighty media and sponsorship expertise. There is a distinct possibility that players such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who were vehemently opposed to LIV Golf, could tee up in team-format events next year.

The reverse also applies; players who switched to LIV Golf, such as recent PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka and reigning Open champion Cam Smith and stars such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood, will be reinstated on their respective tours at the end of the season.

Still, there are likely to be a tense few months ahead. Players on both sides were taken by surprise by the announcement and some are already expressing concern they were not informed about the talks that were taking place and only found out about them through the media.

Following the announcement, two-time Major champion Colin Morikawa tweeted: “I love finding out morning news on Twitter.”

One potential roadblock could be the fact that players such as Woods and Hideki Matsuyama reportedly rejected big-money offers of $800 million and $400 million, respectively, to join LIV Golf. The PGA Tour and its commissioner, Jay Monahan, will have to give them a solid justification for proceeding as they have done.

Yet there can be no denying the fact that the arrival of LIV Golf has been an absolutely amazing development for PGA Tour and DP World Tour players as well.

It prompted the PGA Tour to up its prize money significantly, increasing its Players Impact Program bonus pool to $100 million and introducing 12 designated events with $20 million prize purses. Meanwhile, 10 top DP World Tour players will be given PGA Tour membership at the end of the season, and all increases in prize funds for the next 11 years have been guaranteed by the PGA Tour.

It has also been good for college golfers. The decision by players such as Eugenio Chacarra and David Puig to opt for LIV Golf led to the establishment of the PGA Tour University program, which gave top-ranked National Collegiate Athletic Association players direct access to the main Tour.

After speaking to a couple of LIV Golf players, who were also caught unaware by the announcement, the prevailing sentiment was a feeling that they have been vindicated for their stance, after copping a lot of criticism and abuse from fellow players and fans on social media.

The board of directors of the new entity will include PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, as chairperson, and Monahan as SEO. The former will also join the PGA Tour Policy Board.

One question everyone seems to be asking is what changed from last week, when host Jack Nicklaus was dismissive of the absence of LIV Golf players from his Memorial Tournament, and McIlroy was once again critical of their inclusion in Europe’s Ryder Cup team.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the PGA Tour was feeling the heat in legal proceedings filed by LIV Golf. A long-drawn-out court case would not have been beneficial for either side, hence the compromise.

However, the most important thing is that peace has prevailed — and golf can only prosper with the coming together of these giants.

Hole in one! Golf world stunned as rival tours merge

Hole in one! Golf world stunned as rival tours merge
Updated 07 June 2023

Hole in one! Golf world stunned as rival tours merge

Hole in one! Golf world stunned as rival tours merge
  • Bitter two-year fight ends with PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi-backed LIV Circuit as one entity
  • “Today is a very exciting day for this special game and the people it touches around the world”: Saudi PIF’s Al-Rumayyan

RIYADH: The world of golf was stunned on Tuesday when the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi-backed LIV Circuit, combatants in a fight that has split the sport, agreed to merge into a unified commercial entity.

The former bitter rivals will work together for LIV Golf players to reapply for membership on the other two tours after the 2023 season.

“After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said.

The LIV Golf series is financed by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which will invest in the new entity to drive its growth and success.

“Today is a very exciting day for this special game and the people it touches around the world,” PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan said.

The LIV Golf circuit, which features 54-hole events with no cuts instead of the traditional 72 holes, launched in 2022 and lured big-name players away from the established circuits with massive prize money.

Al-Rumayyan, who will chair the new entity’s board of directors, said he had meetings in London to thrash out the deal with Monahan, who will be chief executive.

“We had a lunch followed by the next day a round of golf and then another lunch. We had discussions and we covered everything,” he said.

Monahan said: “I give Yasir great credit for coming to the table, coming to discussions with an open heart and an open mind. We did the same and the game of golf is better for what we’ve done here today.”

Among those celebrating was former US President Donald Trump, who owns three courses on the LIV Golfcircuit. “A big, beautiful, and glamorous deal for the wonderful world of golf. Congrats to all,” he said.

LIV Golf stars ready for ‘world class’ Valderrama challenge

LIV Golf stars ready for ‘world class’ Valderrama challenge
Updated 05 June 2023

LIV Golf stars ready for ‘world class’ Valderrama challenge

LIV Golf stars ready for ‘world class’ Valderrama challenge
  • Local hero and former Masters champion Sergio Garcia competing alongside compatriots Eugenio Chacarra and David Puig

SOTOGRANDE, Spain: LIV Golf is preparing for its first stop of the season in continental Europe with the LIV Golf Valderrama set to take place at the Real Club Valderrama in Sotogrande, Spain, from June 30 to July 2. 

General admission tickets and hospitality packages are now available for Spanish fans to see local hero and former Masters champion Sergio Garcia competing alongside compatriots Eugenio Chacarra and David Puig, marking the young Spanish stars’ professional debuts in their home country.

Some of the biggest names in golf will be challenging for the title, including five-time major winner and 2023 PGA Champion Brooks Koepka, reigning Open champion Cameron Smith, six-time major champion Phil Mickelson and two-time major champions Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson.

Garcia, the captain of Fireballs GC, has won three professional titles at Valderrama – site of LIV Golf’s eighth event of 2023 for the league’s 48 players and 12 teams.

The field features 13 major champions including Bryson Dechambeau, Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, and Charl Schwartzel, as well as rising stars including Abraham Ancer, Joaquin Niemann and Talor Gooch.   

Mickelson competed in the 1997 Ryder Cup and 1999 WGC American Express Championship at Valderrama.

Unlike the World Golf Hall of Famer, many of LIV Golf’s international stars – notably those from the US – will be teeing it up in Spain for first time.

The venue will be familiar territory for a number of the field’s European players, including former world number one Lee Westwood who competed in the 1997 Ryder Cup and won the Volvo Masters in that same year, Ian Poulter, who won there in 2004, and McDowell, who also won at Valderrama in 2010.

“We are thrilled to bring LIV Golf to Real Club Valderrama, a world class course with a storied history,” said Greg Norman, Commissioner and CEO of LIV Golf. “We are a global league, and this event will showcase the game’s top talent for a country rich with tradition and passion for the sport. It will be another exciting milestone for LIV, and we look forward to creating a memorable experience for players and fans alike.”

McIlroy tied for lead at Memorial by making fewest mistakes

McIlroy tied for lead at Memorial by making fewest mistakes
Updated 04 June 2023

McIlroy tied for lead at Memorial by making fewest mistakes

McIlroy tied for lead at Memorial by making fewest mistakes
  • Thirteen players were separated by two shots, nine more were only three shots out of the lead
  • The big move came from Keegan Bradley, who made the cut on the number

DUBLIN, Ohio: Rory McIlroy realized Muirfield Village was playing so tough that he set a goal of just trying to break 70. He didn’t quite get there, and his 2-under 70 still was enough for him to share the lead Saturday in the Memorial.

It helped that Hideki Matsuyama went from leading to dropping off the leaderboard in a span of six holes. And that Patrick Cantlay went into the water and over the green on his way to a triple bogey. David Lipsky bogeyed his last two holes.

What remained amid a few rumbles of thunder — but no weather delays — was an opportunity for just about everyone who had a tee time Sunday.

Thirteen players were separated by two shots. Nine more were only three shots out of the lead.

Lipsky’s two closing bogeys gave him a 72, while Si Woo Kim overcome two double bogeys for a 71. They joined McIlroy at 6-under 210.

It’s the highest 54-hole lead since 1990, when the weather was so atrocious that the final round was canceled and Greg Norman won at even-par 216.

McIlroy ran into trouble in the right rough on the 10th and had to scramble for a bogey. He pulled his tee shot on the par-5 11th and caught a break when it stopped short of going into the creek. That’s when he set his goal for the day to break 70 by avoiding mistakes and picking up some birdies on a few of the more scorable holes.

It didn’t quite work out that way. He chipped in for birdie on the dangerous par-3 12th. He also hit an approach to a back pin on the 17th that rolled past the cup to 7 feet and set up one of only eight birdies on that hole all round.

Just as sweet was the 18th, where his putt from the back of the green to a front pin ran nearly 10 feet by the cup and he holed that for par. McIlroy had several par putts from between 5 and 8 feet, all of them important on a day like this.

“I was really happy with how I scored out there, and how I just sort of hung in there for most of the day,” McIlroy said.

He will be in the final group with Kim, who one-putted his last seven holes, saving par from a front bunker on the 18th.

All this was made possible largely by Matsuyama, a former Memorial winner, who birdied his first two holes and looked to be on his way. And then it quickly fell apart — a bad chip on the par-3 eighth, a three-putt on the ninth and his big blunder on the par-3 12th — tee shot into the water, then over the green from the drop area and a triple bogey.

Cantlay, a two-time Memorial winner, had only one big mistake. He went for the green from the rough on the par-4 sixth and came up short and into the water, then went long into the rough and didn’t get up-and-down, making a triple bogey.

Otherwise, Cantlay made 14 pars, a pair of birdies and a bogey. He and Matsuyama, despite a big number on each of their cards, were two shots behind going into Sunday.

The big move came from Keegan Bradley, who made the cut on the number. He teed off at 8:15 a.m. and finished as the leaders were just starting to warm up. Bradley made nine birdies in his round of 65, and now he’s only two shots behind.

Viktor Hovland (69) and Mark Hubbard (72) were in the large group one shot behind at 5-under 211. Hubbard bogeyed his last three holes for the second time this week. He didn’t let it bother him on Thursday, and he felt the same way Saturday.

“I’m not happy with my finish again, but at the same time, I made three pretty good bogey putts,” Hubbard said.

His strategy on a day like this: “Just try and make a lot of birdies on the par 5s and not make doubles on the hard holes.”

Justin Suh, the 36-hole leader, didn’t stay there for long. He started bogey-bogey, then found the water on No. 3 for a double bogey. He didn’t make his first birdie — his only one — until the 14th hole. Suh had a 77.

He was still only three shots behind, along with Jordan Spieth (72).

Of the 22 players separated by three shots, nine have never won on the PGA Tour. One of those was Lipsky, who doubts he’ll get too wrapped up in looking at the leaderboard.

“It’s too hard to focus on anything else but your game,” he said.

Suh, Matsuyama ride hot putts on steamy day at the Memorial

Suh, Matsuyama ride hot putts on steamy day at the Memorial
Updated 03 June 2023

Suh, Matsuyama ride hot putts on steamy day at the Memorial

Suh, Matsuyama ride hot putts on steamy day at the Memorial
  • Suh won the Korn Ferry Tour points title last year, and he’s been on the upward trend
  • The Japanese star rolled in a series of birdie putts for a tournament-best 7-under 65

DUBLIN, Ohio: Justin Suh signed for a 6-under 66 at the Memorial and then made a few stops to speak with the media. His putter stayed with him the entire time, which probably was wise.

The way it behaved Friday, when he holed eight putts from the 10-foot range or longer, he might not want to let it out of his sight.

Suh made one last birdie on the 18th that gave him a one-shot lead over past champion Hideki Matsuyama, with two-time Memorial champion Patrick Cantlay another shot behind.

“On the first hole, I made a 12-footer for par on the fringe. I just kind of kept the confidence with the putter going,” Suh said.

Two of his longer putts were to save par, and there were plenty of birdies along the way on another sunny, hot afternoon at Muirfield Village.

Matsuyama and Cantlay played in the morning, two players who consider the course Jack Nicklaus built among their favorites all year. Matsuyama’s putting was equal to Suh produced in the afternoon, rolling in big birdie putts on his way to a tournament-best 65.

“To make those putts at 7 and 8 were huge,” Matsuyama said. “I made some good par-saving putts today. The course is playing tough, especially the greens. If the greens get even harder than they are now, it’s going to be a challenge this weekend. But today, the putts went in and so I’m satisfied.”

Cantlay was superb again from tee-to-green — the brand of golf that usually succeeds at Muirfield Village — and made enough putts for a 67. Several burned the edge of the cup. He also made a 50-foot birdie putt from the back of the green on No. 17.

The course played about a stroke easier, though it was a fair balance. Both days, the morning wave had relative calm and warm, the afternoon wave got wind and heat.

Suh was at 8-under 136 going into the week as he aims for his first PGA Tour title.

The PGA Tour packaged him with a strong college class in 2019 that featured Suh, who reached No. 1 as an amateur while playing at Southern California; Collin Morikawa of Cal; US Amateur champion Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff of Oklahoma State.

Within weeks of turning pro, Wolff and Morikawa were PGA Tour winners. Hovland was not too far behind. Suh began missing cuts, dealt with a wrist injury and took a different route. He said it wasn’t difficult to watch their instant success.

“I thought the better they do, almost better for me. Because they’re the same year as me. If they can do it, I can do it. So it brought a little bit more confidence,” Suh said. “Over the course of three years I didn’t really think about what they were doing. I knew what I had to do to get better and I’ve stayed consistent doing the same things ever since I was in college.

“I think everyone is kind of on their own path.”

Suh won the Korn Ferry Tour points title last year, and he’s been on the upward trend — he contended at the Honda Classic, had a top 10 at The Players Championship and was two out of the lead going into the weekend of the PGA Championship before faltering.

The should be another strong test.

Matsuyama won his first PGA Tour title at Muirfield Village in 2014 and being back gives him an emotional spark in a year that has been slowed by a neck injury. Cantlay has a game that fits anywhere, but he loves the Memorial, and it shows.

David Lipsky (69) joined Cantlay at 6-under 138.

The group four shots behind included Rory McIlroy (68) and Jon Rahm (70).

McIlroy was mostly satisfied with his finish. He played well on Thursday only to get a terrible break when his ball hung in thick grass on the slope of a bunker, leading to a triple bogey on the 18th hole that wiped out his good work and gave him a 72.

This time he finished strong for a 68 that puts him in the mix going into the weekend.

“I felt good about everything that I did yesterday,” he said. “I got one bad break on 18. So I really feel like I’m one shot out of leading this golf tournament. ... I can’t let that one unlucky break hide the fact that everything else was working pretty well.”

Rahm opened with back-to-back bogeys and stayed the course, waiting for birdie opportunities that eventually fell his way. He played bogey-free the rest of the way, picked up two birdies on par 5s and closed with a birdie on the 18th to get in range.

“You’ve got to assume very few players in the afternoon were going to play bogey-free, so you have to go to work and take advantage of the holes coming up,” Rahm said.

The cut was at 3-over 147, and Scottie Scheffler made it on the number.

Scheffler, back to No. 1 in the world ranking, has not finished worst than 12th all year. Keeping that streak alive will take some work, not to mention some putts. He ranks last in putting among the 66 players who made the cut.