By Kent Gray
Tom Buchanan’s locker in the Falcon clubhouse is surrounded by those with the names of Johnson, McIlroy, Fleetwood and Rose. He’s played nine practice holes with Ryder Cupper Stephen Gallacher and even managed to sneak into the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship’s “Class of 2018” photo call, a who’s who snapshot of the European Tour’s best.
The Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club head pro half-pie expects to wake up from this “surreal” dream but it’s real and it’s “crazy” cool. Buchanan really did qualify for the Desert Swing opener via a reinstated UAE PGA qualifier at Saadiyat Beach G.C. before Christmas and he really will tee it up in the $3 million event Thursday in the company of England’s Paul Waring and Ricardo Gouevia of Portugal.
“It’s just mental, crazy, still crazy,” said the Scotsman who celebrated his 38th birthday on Tuesday and is sure to have vocal local galleries in tow when he sets off from the 1st tee at 12.55pm.
“I’ve really enjoyed it, just being about everything. I managed to get myself in the group photo which is a keepsake for life and the nine holes with Stevie on Monday was amazing. I don’t know if it’s not hit me yet that I’m actually in the tournament but I’ve somehow managed to keep myself reality calm. Hopefully that continues throughout the week.”
Gallacher offered invaluable strategic insight, particularly when to attack the scoreable par 5s and when to favour a more conservative approach. Buchanan has used a few solo circuits to sure up his wedge work around the greens and putting on them in anticipation of keeping his rounds going.
“The rough is pretty juicy so if you miss the fairway you pretty much have to lay up because you can’t get enough club on the ball. So I’ve been working on lay ups, feeling comfortable hitting those par saver shots.”
Making the cut is the goal and Buchanan knows he’s capable despite the heady company he’s keeping this week.
“I was talking to [Dubai-based coach to the stars] Justin Parsons and he said the only person stopping me from shooting 70 is me.,no body else. There’s no referee saying I can’t shoot 70. Those words hit me. If I go out and play like I know I can, who knows what’s in store for me.
“I’ve been hitting it well in practice, hitting the driver well so the chance of being here over the weekend is actually possible if I can just stay in control of myself.”
Buchanan knows he’ll probably have to play “33 holes of the best golf of my life” to make the weekend but can’t lose either way.
“It’s just surreal, those names around me in the locker room, but they’re all human. Everyone has been very good, very nice and helped me stay pretty relaxed. If I do make the cut, then great. If not, it will still be an unbelievable experience.”
Photo: Masam Ali (Motivate)