Ahmad Skaik has doubled down on his short game work since the 2020 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January. (Photograph by David Cannon/Getty Images)
Emirati lefty Ahmad Skaik will proudly create history at next month’s Dubai Trophy but his ambition extends well beyond the Ryder Cup-style matches
By Kent Gray
In these extraordinary times, amateur golfers everywhere have had far too much time to reflect on tough lessons learned and glories past. Thankfully, Ahmad Skaik finally has some decent competition on the horizon to get him excited about the game again.
Things were going swimmingly for the ambitious 23-year-old Emirati before the coronavirus pandemic tilted the golfing world on its axis. The +3-handicapper had qualified for his maiden European Tour start at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January and followed up that eye-opening experience with victories at the UAE Presidents Cup (with a record -5 aggregate) and the Montgomerie and Trump Dubai Opens. The latter was particularly sweet as he came back from four shots adrift of Trump member Toby Bishop entering the final round to beat the red-hot Welsh teen in a playoff.
But like everyone else, Skaik suddenly found himself in lockdown and all the momentum lost.
“COVID changed the whole year. It was very frustrating,” Skaik says. “I had a few months of not touching my golf clubs because I had no motivation to practice, like I didn’t have anything to look forward to. I did some online classes with my university and worked hard in the gym and I feel good now with my game. I’m ready for the tournaments to come back.”
The Monty and Trump triumphs have Skaik just 20 points behind pal Dan Byrne in the Emirates Golf Federation (EGF) Order of Merit (OOM) race with only the Yas Links (Sept. 11-12) and Al Ain Open’s (Sept. 18-19) to play. Those, and helping the EGF team reach the top division of the UAE Scratch League, are obvious immediate targets for Skaik but it is the Dubai Trophy that him really fizzing.
The 21st edition of the Ryder Cup-style matches will see the EGF’s leading amateurs chase an unprecedented fourth victory over the Luke Plumb-captained UAE PGA Tour pros. It’s already a personal triumph for Skaik who jumped at the opportunity to serve as Steven Kelbrick’s vice-caption for the matches scheduled for October 3-4. It means Skaik is on target to become the first Emirati captain in 2021, a reflection of his growing reputation in the local scene.
“I chose Ahmad because we have played a number of rounds together over last two years where he has shown his constantly improving game, his hard work and his enjoyment for the game and competition. He plays the game in the right way and can be a great UAE ambassador for the game,” says Kelbrick.
Understandably, Skaik is equal parts excited and anxious. At least he has positive experiences to call on for this year and next; his three previous Dubai Trophy appearances have coincided with the amateurs’ historic hat-trick of wins.
“I get nervous just thinking about it but it’s [going to be] an honour to be the captain of a great group of players. I can’t wait for this year’s trophy so I can get an idea on how that feels and learn from it for next year,” said Skaik.
“I’m very happy to be the first Emirati to do it and I hope this inspires the younger generation, especially my younger brother (13-year-old Mohammad who plays off a 19-handicap.)”
Beyond the Dubai Trophy, Skaik is looking forward to getting his International Studies degree at the American University in Dubai done and dusted so he can concentrate in his golf dreams.
“For now, I have to finish university so everything [golf wise] will be in the UAE and a few tournaments outside when I am off uni. But after I finish, I will play maybe one more year then turn pro. That is the goal and I don’t see why I can’t make it if I keep working on the right things and keep my focus.”
It appears the lefty is working on the right things after linking with Claude Harmon III Performance Golf Academy coach Joe Marshall, rather randomly as it turns out.
“I went two years without a coach and my game was up and down so I decided to work with [a coach]. I didn’t know who to pick so I opened the website and said that the first name that pops up to me is the one and that was Joe Marshall.
“Me and Joe have a very good relationship and we understand each other really well. Last season was tough because we made a deal to forget about the results of tournaments and just work on getting my swing together. We changed my grip, tempo of the swing, and length of the swing. My ball striking improved so much since I started working with Joe, my swing is night and day better now than what it was two years ago. I also work with Allister Parlane in the gym and that also had a lot of impact on my game especially with balance and distance off the tee.”
Distance off the tee is just one of the “must improve” aspects Skaik took away from his European Tour debut at Abu Dhabi Golf Club where rounds of 84-85 left him 25-over-par, 26-shots shy of making the cut and under no illusions about the standards required to compete at the highest level.
“I think Abu Dhabi was the best thing that ever happened to me. It took my game to another level because I experienced pressure that I’ve never felt before. Everything else feels like a normal round for me now. I realised that I need to gain a lot of distance off the tee to be able to compete and obviously needed to work on ball striking and my short game more.”
Skaik also realised he needed help with the butterflies churning in his stomach. Cue the arrival of mental coach Steven Thomas to Team Skaik.
“The difference between a good player and a great player is to be able to overcome pressure and adversity and be able to win.
“I think after working with Steve, I am mentally in a better place and I have so much more confidence in myself now and we can see with my results. We work on pre shot routine, how to prepare for a round, and my attitude on the golf course. I think that it helped me a lot. He is the best at it in the UAE in my opinion.”
Best in the UAE. Now there’s a target for Skaik. The refocused left-hander is on his way.