By Matt Smith
It has been quite a 12 months for golf in Saudi Arabia as we are already beginning to see some fruit from the investment, training, infrastructure improvements and dedication that Golf Saudi has put into the sport over the past year.
This weekend we saw Othman Almulla, the Kingdom’s first professional golfer, make it through to the weekend of the inaugural Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup — something of a groundbreaking tournament in itself.
This comes on the back of a strong showing from Saudi Arabia at last month’s GCC Golf Championship in Abu Dhabi — and an impressive 2021-22 season overall — for the Kingdom’s top players.
The National Team finished second in the six-team GCC event over three rounds at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s National Course.
Faisal Salhab was the stand-out performer for Saudi Arabia, taking second spot in the individual standings to go with his team runners-up medal. Qatar came out on top in that event, while Saleh Al Kaabi of Qatar took individual honours by four shots from Salhab.
There was also an impressive performance from Saudi junior Ali Babtain, taking second position in the individual competition in the UAE, six strokes behind Kuwait’s Salem Alabkal.
The game in Saudi Arabia continues to grow on both a professional and amateur level and this season has already produced a number of impressive results.
Leading Saudi amateur golfer Faisal Salhab was crowned champion of the sixth edition of the Saudi Open in December, booking a spot at the Saudi International alongside Saud Al Sharif and Almullah, allowing the trio to gain priceless experience alongside some of the best golfers on the planet.
Another highlight towards the end of last year was Al Sharif’s triumphs in the MENA event in Bahrain and then the Jordan Open Golf Championship, prevailing against 85 golfers from 11 countries over three days in Aqaba.
Jamie McConnell, Director of Instruction at Claude Harmon Performance Academy Dubai, coaches amateurs Faisal and Saud — along with helping pro Othman — and is impressed at the advancements he has witnessed in his players and the Saudi game.
“We began working with the Saudi National Team three years ago, with a small group of young, eager men arriving to our academy keen to get to work,” he told Golf Digest Middle East. “At that point the team had a minimal amount of high-level tournament experience and the highest ranked player in the team was approximately 3,000th in the world amateur rankings.
“Our plan was introduce them to regular instruction and long-term planning to help them develop their game, while also exposing them to as many high-level tournaments as possible. This plan would not have been possible without the unwavering support of Golf Saudi who have backed and encouraged the team throughout.
“This support has allowed the team members to compete in tournaments that range from Elite amateur events to some of the highest ranked professional events in the world.
“We have seen Faisal and Saud really separate themselves from the rest of the team and achieve some amazing results in the process. Saud was the first out of the blocks by taking the Amateur win on the MENA tour which took place in Bahrain, and backed this up with another win in Jordan amateur a few months later. Meanwhile Faisal followed swiftly in Saud’s footsteps with a win at the Saudi Invitational and the Pan Arab Championships.
“These results culminated in both players breaking into the top 500 players in the world, and Faisal reaching No. 75 in the WAGR rankings. In a three-year period this is a particularly impressive feat and I think it is safe to say that it is only the beginning.”
The players are also keen to express their gratitude for the support.
“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 after his impressive Saudi Open performance, breaking the course record at Riyadh Golf Club in the process.
“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.”
Mohammed Al-Issa, Executive Manager of the Saudi Golf Federation, observed: “We are of course delighted by Faisal’s victory, which confirms the great progress the Saudi National Team has made in recent years.”
As McConnell said, this looks like it is only the beginning.
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