Quality, excitement on and off the course as Aramco Team Series jets into Florida

Lexi Thompson in action. (Supplied/ATS)
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Lexi Thompson in action. (Supplied/ATS)
Lexi Thompson with her trophy. (Supplied/ATS)
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Lexi Thompson with her trophy. (Supplied/ATS)
The Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach in Florida. (Supplied/ATS)
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The Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach in Florida. (Supplied/ATS)
Lydia Ko putting at ATS Singapore. (Supplied/ATS)
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Lydia Ko putting at ATS Singapore. (Supplied/ATS)
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Updated 15 May 2023

Quality, excitement on and off the course as Aramco Team Series jets into Florida

Quality, excitement on and off the course as Aramco Team Series jets into Florida

WEST PALM BEACH: The Aramco Team Series makes its debut in West Palm Beach, Florida later this week, as the world’s best female professional golfers compete for the $1million prize fund over three days at Trump International Golf Club from May 19 to 21.

Below are some reasons as to why the event cannot be missed:

1. Home-town Hero Lexi Thompson

Florida star and world number six Lexi Thompson is confirmed to tee it up at the second event of the 2023 Aramco Team Series. Thompson is no stranger to the Aramco Team Series, having previously competed in the inaugural event in London and enjoyed victory in New York at Trump Golf Links Ferry Point last October.

Thompson is relishing the opportunity to add to her impressive record in the Aramco Team Series, commenting: “I am looking forward to competing in the Aramco Team Series in my home state of Florida. I’m a huge fan of the tournament and this event gives me a chance to compete with the talented players from the Ladies European Tour in an innovative format and offers fans and players the opportunity to experience something unique.”

2. A Star-Studded Field

The world’s best female professional golfers will be teeing it up in the second round of the Aramco Team Series, which consists of five events across the globe contested throughout the golf calendar.

Watch your favourite players including Thompson, world number-two Lydia Ko, multiple-time tour winner Jessica Korda and a host of Solheim Cup stars as they compete for the $1 million prize fund.

Six-time LPGA winner Korda returns to the Aramco Team Series, having competed previously in New York where she finished tied 4th, and tied 18th in 2021 and 2022 respectfully.

Korda’s best result in the Aramco Team Series came last year at Sotogrande where she finished tied second in the individual event and was victorious in the team event with a combined score of 33-under par alongside her teammates.

Ko’s results in the Aramco Team Series have consisted of a string of stellar performances, as the world number two is relishing her return to the Aramco Team Series and is hoping to improve on her debut performance in Singapore which saw her finish in third place behind the eventual winner Pauline Roussin.

3. A fun-filled weekend for the whole family

The weekend will include family-friendly activities and world-class golfing action, with general admission tickets now on sale starting from $10 per person, and where kids (under-18) go free all weekend.

The Fan Zone will include chipping and long putt challenges, target practice at the cornhole tables and ‘Putt Pong’ activation.

4. World Long Drive Champion Kyle Berkshire

On Saturday May 20, two-time ‘World Long Drive Champion’ Kyle Berkshire will be hosting a clinic on the driving range.

As the world record holder for indoor ball-speed (233 mph), it will be a rare opportunity to behold the World Long Drive champion and UCF-alum in action and hear some of Kyle’s insights into his prodigious length off the tee first-hand.

This clinic is open to all general admission ticket holders.

5. Golf Legend Gary Player

Nine-time major champion and all-round golfing icon Gary Player will be attending the Aramco Team Series, and bringing age-defying energy to fans of the tournament as he hosts a clinic with invitees from the ‘Girls on The Green Tee Foundation’, with the opportunity for general admission fans to watch the legend in action on Sunday afternoon.

For hospitality ticket holders, there will be a rare opportunity to meet Gary Player in a unique Q&A with the golfing legend in the 18th Hospitality.

6. Be Part of a Global Series

Florida hostS the second event of the ATS calendar, following an exciting finale in Singapore in March, where young French star Pauline Roussin shot an outstanding 64, including a run of five birdies in six holes around the turn, to claim her second Ladies European Tour title – holding off world number one Ko.

The Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour is competed across five global destinations throughout the year. After teeing off in Singapore and the Florida event, the series moves on to London and Hong Kong before concluding in Riyadh in October.

Aramco Team Series Florida consists of 36 teams comprising of one amateur and three professionals who compete for a $1million prize fund.

Aside from the team event, there is a three-day individual stroke play competition contested amongst the professionals which contributes to both Race to Costa del Sol and Rolex World Ranking points.

Meet Kash Shaikh, man bringing ‘baseball diplomacy’ to Middle East, South Asia

Meet Kash Shaikh, man bringing ‘baseball diplomacy’ to Middle East, South Asia
Updated 31 May 2023

Meet Kash Shaikh, man bringing ‘baseball diplomacy’ to Middle East, South Asia

Meet Kash Shaikh, man bringing ‘baseball diplomacy’ to Middle East, South Asia
  • Houston, Texas native is chairman, CEO of Baseball United, 1st pro baseball league focused on Middle East, Indian subcontinent
  • Kash Shaikh: ‘It’s a fascinating thing. I run my businesses, including Baseball United, our team, our culture, we run it like a sports team’

DUBAI: For Kash Shaikh, it is all about “bringing people together.”

It, in this case, is the monumental task of bringing professional baseball to the Middle East and South Asia. He described it as “baseball diplomacy.”

Chairman and chief executive officer of Baseball United, the first-ever professional baseball league focused on the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, Shaikh told Arab News: “For us, me, and everyone on our leadership team, we’re all lifelong baseball fans.

“We’ve been connected to the game, either as executives or players or fans, for really our whole life. We have a collective 500 years of baseball experience within our leadership team.

“About a year-and-a-half ago, we all came together with this idea, this vision to grow the game of baseball. And as we were thinking through the potential opportunities with the game, what we realised pretty quickly was that the biggest opportunity for growth was international. And the best place for that growth would be the Middle East and South Asia, for a few reasons.”

He referred to his target region as “the epicenter of bat and ball sports,” with more than 1 billion cricket fans.

Shaikh said: “It’s also a region that’s fully embracing sport and investing in sport. Dubai, and the UAE is a big example, so too is Saudi Arabia, Qatar, obviously, and other countries throughout the region.

“And it’s a region where this is a completely white-space opportunity from a business and a brand-building standpoint. There are no professional baseball leagues in the region, we’re the first, and there’s not much professional baseball and baseball infrastructure at all within the region.

“There are passionate people who love the game though. There are kids who have tools and talent, there are coaches who want to teach, there are federations speckled across the region that have been working really hard for decades, but just haven’t got the resources, the funding, and the support that are necessary to grow. We call those nations, the forgotten nations of baseball,” he added.

There are currently 141 members of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, the sport’s governing body. Most of those beyond the top 30 were considered among the so-called forgotten nations. “That’s our constituency,” he said.

“The fan base is there, people don’t realise there’s actually over 50 million avid baseball fans within the region close, to 60 million avid baseball fans in that region. That’s more avid baseball fans than we have in the United States right now. So, it’s a huge, huge opportunity.”

When it came to picking a base of operation for the new project, Shaikh opted for a location he had become familiar with over the years.

“Dubai is amazing. The leadership is amazing. The government vision is inspiring. When the UAE and Dubai get behind sport, it really step-changes the engagement across the region.

“We’ve seen what has happened with golf in the region. We’ve seen what’s happened with MMA, we’ve seen what’s happened with F1. And actually, there are more avid baseball fans than there are avid golf fans, MMA fans, or F1 fans in the region.

“Everything about Dubai, the infrastructure, the leadership, the innovation, the beauty of the city, was what drew us to the city,” he added.

Shaikh was born in Houston, Texas to a father from Mumbai and a mother from Islamabad. After attending The University of Texas at Austin — where he founded the first ever South Asian fraternity in the US — he worked for American multi-national corporation Procter and Gamble for 10 years, and had a stint with GoPro, before going on to start several successful businesses of his own.

His career allowed him to spend long stretches of time in the Middle East region.

Getting Baseball United off the ground has been far from easy, but Shaikh pointed out that he had the right partners to make it a success.

He said: “I’m grateful for the partners we have on the ground. We’ve got a great, great relationship with the Sports Council, we’ve got a great relationship with Dubai Sports City. And we wouldn’t be able to do this without them.”

Already two franchises have been established, the first being the Mumbai Cobras and the second — following recent talks with the Pakistan Federation Baseball — the Karachi Monarchs. Once the last two of the initial group of four are named, eyes will turn to Dubai in November.

“We’re starting in November, with our first four franchises playing a Showcase event in Dubai. Nov. 5 through 12, we’re calling Baseball Week in Dubai. And we’ll have a series of different events that are going to be exciting for fans and for people within the region that we’re going to announce soon. That week will culminate on Nov. 10 through 12, with the Showcase.”

The action, involving four matches, will take place at the 25,000-capacity Dubai International Stadium, one of cricket’s homes in the UAE.

“If we can get 5,000 people in the stands, we’re going to be doing great. We’ll probably be setting records for leagues,” he added.

The next big landmark date after that for Baseball United will be November 2024, when an eight-franchise league will be launched in Dubai.

Shaikh noted that 800 players, from 30 countries, currently on Baseball United’s database had been vetted and scouted, with 200 already notified that they had made the list to potentially to play in the Showcase in November, as well as in 2024’s Season 1.

He said: “We have some of the best players from Finland, some of the best players from the Dominican Republic, we have some of the best players from the Far East, coming to play in the league. We have some really exciting former Major League Baseball players too, and that’s going to be cool when announced. So, we have those as the core.”

The next step in terms of rosters will be to introduce local talent, whether from existing national teams, or through grass-roots projects and training programs in the region — starting with India and Pakistan and then expanding into the Middle East.

“We’re going to be in Saudi Arabia (in June) meeting with the federation there, so I’m really excited,” Shaikh added.

An array of baseball stars past and present have in recent months backed Baseball United, not just through endorsements, but by investing their own money in the project. Among them are Felix Hernandez, Adrian Beltre, Mariano Rivera, and Barry Larkin, as well as Elvis Andrus, still an active player with the Chicago White Sox.

“There’s no way we could have done this without our Major League Baseball legends who’ve come on board. They’ve added credibility, they’ve driven excitement. And they have also ensured that the culture of the organization is focused on not just building a business and making money, but helping people, inspiring people, building community, and changing culture, all those things that I’ve been passionate about.

“They’re calling me all the time asking what’s up, what’s next?”

Shaikh was a big sports fan growing up in Texas and played basketball through college, and he has carried his experiences into his career, in particular the new venture.

He said: “It’s a fascinating thing. I run my businesses, including Baseball United, our team, our culture, we run it like a sports team.

“We have a culture that’s about camaraderie and accountability and discipline. I feel really blessed because I played team sports my whole life, I’m passionate about it.”

Djokovic back in action at French Open after Kosovo controversy

Djokovic back in action at French Open after Kosovo controversy
Updated 31 May 2023

Djokovic back in action at French Open after Kosovo controversy

Djokovic back in action at French Open after Kosovo controversy
  • Djokovic scrawled the message "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence" on a camera following his first-round match
  • "It was a message that is very activist, that is very political," Amelie Oudea-Castera told broadcaster France 2

PARIS: Novak Djokovic will take to Court Philippe Chatrier in Wednesday’s French Open night session under fire for his recent comments about clashes in Kosovo, after world number one Carlos Alcaraz also plays in the second round.
Djokovic, who is chasing a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros, scrawled the message “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence” on a camera following his first-round match.
The 36-year-old faces Hungarian Marton Fucsovics for a place in the last 32 but the focus has been on his political views, with the French sports minister on Wednesday condemning the two-time Roland Garros champion.
“It was a message that is very activist, that is very political,” Amelie Oudea-Castera told broadcaster France 2.
“You shouldn’t get involved, especially in the current circumstances, and it shouldn’t happen again.”
She added that tournament director Amelie Mauresmo had spoken to Djokovic and his entourage.
Thirty peacekeepers from a NATO-led force in Kosovo were injured in clashes with ethnic Serb demonstrators on Monday during protests about the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors in northern Kosovo.
“Kosovo is our cradle, our stronghold, center of the most important things for our country... There are many reasons why I wrote that on the camera,” Djokovic told Serb media after writing his message.
Djokovic will be hoping for less drama on the court against an opponent he has beaten four times in as many meetings.
He has not failed to reach the third round of a Grand Slam tournament since the 2017 Australian Open.
In Wednesday’s early action, Stefanos Tsitsipas cruised into the third round with a straight-sets win over Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena.
The Greek fifth seed, the runner-up to Djokovic in 2021, claimed a 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 win on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Tsitsipas will next face either Argentinian Diego Schwartzman or Portugal’s Nuno Borges for a place in the second week.
Elina Svitolina battled back from a break and a set down to beat Storm Hunter, just 12 hours after her husband Gael Monfils’ late-night escape act.
Ukrainian Svitolina, playing at a Grand Slam event for the first time since the 2022 Australian Open, downed qualifier Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.
Home favorite Monfils claimed his first win in nine months in a five-set first-round thriller against Sebastian Baez which finished after midnight in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“Yes, I watched him, but not live. I was screaming in my room so if someone heard me, it was me cheering for Gael,” said Svitolina, who was being supported on Court Simonne Mathieu by Monfils.
American third seed Jessica Pegula booked her spot in the last 32 when opponent Camila Giorgi retired injured after losing the first set 6-2.
Former champion Jelena Ostapenko crashed out, though, losing 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 to the United States’ Peyton Stearns.
Later, Alcaraz continues his bid for a second major title against Japan’s Taro Daniel, while world number two Aryna Sabalenka plays Iryna Shymanovich in an all-Belarusian women’s tie.

Dubai to host 6th edition of Vice President’s Jiu-Jitsu Cup

Dubai to host 6th edition of Vice President’s Jiu-Jitsu Cup
Updated 31 May 2023

Dubai to host 6th edition of Vice President’s Jiu-Jitsu Cup

Dubai to host 6th edition of Vice President’s Jiu-Jitsu Cup
  • Competitions across several age categories will take place June 3-4 at Shabab Al-Ahli Club

DUBAI: The sixth edition of the Vice President’s Jiu-Jitsu Cup is set to kick off on Saturday at the Shabab Al-Ahli Club in Dubai, with club and academy athletes from throughout the UAE taking to the mat.

The event, organized by the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, will take place on June 3 to 4 and will feature competitions across categories including under-14s, 16s, and 18s, and adults.

The championship, which was initially introduced in 2018, will feature an open belt format.

With prize money of more than 1 million Emirati dirhams ($272,000), the tournament is among the three local competitions that allow clubs and academies from throughout the country to vie for the coveted title. The other two are the Jiu-Jitsu President’s Cup and the Mother of the Nation Jiu-Jitsu Cup.

Mohammed Salem Al-Dhaheri, deputy chairman of the UAEJJF, said: “The Vice President’s Cup serves as a launching pad for new jiu-jitsu talents in the UAE, propelling them toward excellence and the opportunity to represent the national team.

“The local championships organized by the UAEJJF are on a par with the highest standards of major international championships in terms of technical and organizational aspects.

“Clubs and academies are eager to have their athletes participate in these competitions, as they provide a unique environment for them to test their skills,” he added.

Al-Dhaheri praised the efforts of participating academies and clubs in helping to strengthen the global leadership of the UAE in the self-defense martial art and solidifying its position as the world capital for the sport.

Title-hungry Nuggets face odds-defying Heat in NBA Finals

Title-hungry Nuggets face odds-defying Heat in NBA Finals
Updated 31 May 2023

Title-hungry Nuggets face odds-defying Heat in NBA Finals

Title-hungry Nuggets face odds-defying Heat in NBA Finals
  • The best-of-seven championship series begins Thursday at Denver
  • Nuggets coach Michael Malone: Our goal is to win a championship, so we have much more work to do

DENVER: A Denver Nuggets squad looking to prove their championship quality and an upstart Miami Heat lineup that made defying the odds a trademark are on an NBA Finals collision course.

Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic of Serbia leads the Western Conference top seed Nuggets against sharpshooter Jimmy Butler and the Heat, who needed a play-in victory just to grab an eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

The best-of-seven championship series begins Thursday at Denver. It’s the Nuggets’ first trip to the NBA Finals since making their league debut in 1976.

Denver have won hard-earned respect after 46 seasons of futility, this year as a playoff top seed for the first time.

“Our goal is to win a championship, so we have much more work to do,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

“Seems like for years now, some dusty old cowtown in the Rocky Mountains, the little respect that we get. You can sit there and complain about it or you can just embrace who we are and what we have.

“Until we win a championship, people are going to keep saying that about us. So that’s what drives us. Getting to the finals doesn’t do it. It’s winning a championship.”

Jokic, a 6-foot-11 (2.11m) center, averaged 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and a career-high 9.8 assists a game this season and shot a career-best 63.2 percent from the floor.

Miami center Bam Adebayo says the key to slowing Jokic is “making him take tough shots” but added, “The biggest thing for us is try to limit his assists. Sounds easier said than done. Biggest thing for us is watching film and figuring that out.”

The Nuggets have talent and depth around Jokic, led by guard Jamal Murray, who missed the entire 2021-22 season due to a torn left knee ligament. He’s averaging 27.7 points in the playoffs.

“I’m so happy for Jamal. He’s a special player,” Jokic said. “He has been our best player since round one, really stepping up. Even if he doesn’t make shots, his energy is always good. He’s still fighting.”

Denver forward Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Bruce Brown and guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each average 10-15 points in the playoffs in supporting roles that have made the Nuggets formidable.

“When we’re just playing the right way, everything opens up,” Murray said. “Everybody eats when we’re all playing for each other and we’ve been doing that for a while. We’re just in a great rhythm of playing unselfish basketball.”

And there’s more to come.

“We’ve got four more wins to go,” Murray said. “First Nuggets team to go all the way. We just want to make the most of the opportunity.”

To do that, the Nuggets must defeat a giant-killer Heat team that became only the second eighth seed to reach the NBA Finals after the 1999 New York Knicks.

Miami, who lost two regular-season games against Denver, lost a play-in game to Atlanta then beat Chicago to grab the last East playoff spot.

The Heat stunned NBA wins-leader Milwaukee, beat New York and edged Boston in seven games in the East final after letting the Celtics pull level from an 0-3 hole.

“We have some incredible competitors in that locker room. They love the challenge,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

“Things don’t always go your way. The inevitable setbacks happen and it’s how you deal with that collectively. It can sap your spirit. It can take a team down for whatever reason. With this group, it has steeled us and made us closer and made us tougher.”

Butler has averaged 28.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists a game in the playoffs but “Jimmy Buckets” says he isn’t finished.

“Nobody is satisfied,” he said. “We haven’t done anything. We don’t play just to win the Eastern Conference. We play to win the whole thing.”

And being a huge underdog in the finals is just how Adebayo wants it.

“When you go through what we went through this whole season, people writing us off, to be four games from a championship just speaks volume to, one, we never quit, and two, everybody rallied together,” he said.

Bolt desperate for impactful role in track and field

Bolt desperate for impactful role in track and field
Updated 31 May 2023

Bolt desperate for impactful role in track and field

Bolt desperate for impactful role in track and field
  • The Jamaican athletics star said that he was aware his personality was a vital ingredient in the success of track and field during his era
  • Bolt thought that next year’s Paris Olympics could be a special moment for the sport

MEXICO CITY: Usain Bolt said he is desperate to play a role in reviving the sport that made him a global superstar but has experienced something of a decline since his retirement six years ago.

The Jamaican, who dominated men’s sprinting for nearly a decade after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said he had found plenty to do to keep himself busy but was really keen to remain involved in sport.

“I spend my time doing a lot of family things, when it comes to track and field, not as much as I would want to but I still try and stay in touch with what is going on,” the 36-year-old told Reuters.

“I’m still waiting on a position from (World Athletics), I’ve reached out to them and let them know I would love to make a bigger impact in sports, as long as they want me to.

“We’ve been in talks but we’ll have to wait and see what comes around.”

Bolt added that he was aware his personality was a vital ingredient in the success of track and field during his era but thought he could see signs that athletes like US sprinter Noah Lyles might be starting to fill the charisma gap.

“It’s going to be a process. After me, it kind of went down because of who I was as a person, and how big my personality was,” added the eight-times Olympic gold medallist.

“But I think over time it will be better. I think young athletes are coming up and I see a few personalities that are needed in sport, hopefully in the upcoming years it will change.

“Hopefully I can play a part and help the sport to grow.”

There was disappointment at the crowds for last year’s World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, but Bolt thought that next year’s Paris Olympics could be a special moment for the sport.

“Sometimes it’s all about where it is, America is not the biggest track and field place,” he said.

“I think Paris will be big, because it’s accessible and I know Paris always has a good team and good athletes over the years. So I look forward to that.”

After a decade of Bolt-inspired global dominance, Jamaica’s men have failed to win a single track gold medal at the last two World Championships.

At this year’s championships in Budapest, however, Bolt sees some promise of success in young sprinters Oblique Seville and Ackeem Blake.

“Last year, Seville came fourth (in the 100m) so I was very impressed. Also now there’s a young kid, Ackeem Blake, who is also stepping up. So I think that’s a good start,” the 11-times world champion said.

“Hopefully these two will motivate other youngsters to want to step up, and want to train harder and dedicate themselves.”

Jamaica are still dominant in the women’s sprints and Bolt said he would be keeping a close eye on compatriot Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at the World Championships in August.

Fraser-Pryce, also 36, will be seeking a record-extending sixth world 100m title in Hungary, 14 years after making her debut in the global showpiece of track and field.

“I follow Shelly a lot because we came through the same era so to see her continue sprinting and coming back from having a child, that’s impressive,” said Bolt.