By Kent Gray
Faisal Salhab has taken the lessons from a pair of eye-opening Asian Tour starts in Thailand home and wasted no time turning them into a dream start in February’s star-studded Saudi International.
The national amateur team representative captured the 6th Saudi Open on Saturday and did so in some style. A course-record six-under 66 helped him finish 11-under for the 54-hole event at Riyadh Golf Club and win by a whopping five strokes from the Kingdom’s top-ranked amateur Saud Al Sharif who finished T-2 alongside Spaniard Gabriel Sanz and Qatari Ali Al-Shahrani.
The event was open to all professional and amateur golfers in the Middle East and North Africa and saw 88 players from 27 countries compete. The lure was a start in the Feb. 3-6 2022 Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, coincidently the start of the 2022 Asian Tour season.
That start is now Salhab’s and means he will tee it up in the same field as 25 of the world’s leading players including two-time defending champion Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson.
It will be another step up again from his invites to the Asian Tour’s Phuket Series as part of a Saudi delegation.
Salhab improved on a +9 (81-72) performance at the Blue Canyon Phuket Championship where he finished T-134th in the 144-strong field by placing 109th at the Laguna Phuket Championship the following week with a +6 (73-73) return.
He was the leading Saudi amateur at both Thai events which marked the Asian Tour’s return to action after a 20-month COVID-19 enforced hiatus and saw the pros jockeying to finish inside the top-30 of the Order of Merit to earn starts at the Saudi International.
That race will conclude with a Singapore double-header next month but Salhab needn’t worry about that after securing his place at Riyadh Golf Club. Like all the Saudi players, his development is being fast-tracked by the Asian Tour experiences and there looks likely to be more starts to come after Saudi-financed LIV Golf Investments pumping $200 million into 10 new premier Asian Tour events from 2022.
“It is a great honour to win this title, especially in light of the great competition and the high-level of competition on show from this weekend’s golfers, which makes this achievement even more extra special for me,” Salhab said afterwards.
“This is all thanks to the continuous support us National Team players receive, whether that’s from the Saudi Golf Federation or Golf Saudi, their backing enhances our chances of performing to the best of our abilities. A special thanks must also go to the Golf Saudi agronomy team who have prepared the course here at Riyadh Golf Club incredibly well. Finally, it was fantastic to see so many other players from around the Middle East come to Riyadh to compete, underlining the reputation of the Saudi Open.”
Mohammed Al-Issa, Executive Manager of the Saudi Golf Federation, said: “We have seen some remarkable performances over the past three days. The great concentration and focus of the players contributed to an incredibly exciting competition. We are of course delighted by Faisal’s victory, which confirms the great progress the Saudi National Team has made in recent years. We want to see our players continue to win trophies in 2022, and we will watch Faisal’s progress closely at next year’s Saudi International and we already excited about hosting the seventh edition of the Saudi Open and to welcoming back all of our competitors to the Kingdom once again.”
The Saudi Open is part of a series of events that Golf Saudi holds annually to develop raise awareness of the game in the Kingdom as well as developing home-grown future talent.