By Matt Smith
Emirates Golf Club witnessed one of the closest, most dramatic days in UAE golf history on Monday as the ‘Pros’ defeated the ‘Ams’ to reclaim the Dubai Golf Trophy.
The competition is one of the biggest events on the UAE golf calendar and this year it lived up to its reputation as history was made left, right and centre.
Now in its 23rd year, the Dubai Golf Trophy pits the UAE’s top 16 professional players against the top 16 amateurs in the region. Each team consists of 12 automatic qualifiers from the season-long UAE PGA tournaments and qualifying Emirates Golf Federation events across the UAE. Both team captains then took their additional four ‘wildcard’ picks.
The event, which closely follows the Ryder Cup format, saw two teams of 16 battle it out in the team matches at Dubai Creek on Sunday and then 16 matchplay singles on the Majlis at Emirates Golf Club on Monday.
And it was an epic.
While the pros held the advantage after Day 1, with the most slender of leads at 8.5-7.5, they held their nerve when it looked like they might throw it all away and give the Ams the bragging rights and the Trophy.
Khalid Yousuf’s amateur team were so quick out of the blocks on Monday and had their noses in front when Yash Majmudar and Hugo Garcia thumped Michael Bolt and Steven Munro 6&4 and 4&3 respectively.
The other two early matches between Sujjan Singh and Max Burrow, and Jackson Bell and Craig Vance were halved, and the amateurs were scenting another victory.
But then came the blue wave of pro scores as Graham Forbes thrashed Jay Mullane 4&2, Tom Buchanan denied Yousuf 2&1 and Thomas Ogilvie chalked up a 3&1 win over Ali Parlane.
History-making Olivia Jackson showed her steel as the first ever female to play in the event as she saw out a see-saw battle against Sam Mullane to snatch a vital half-point.
While it looked all rosy on the blue side for the pros, the red army charged back as amateurs Toby Bishop (3&2) and David Guinee (2up) saw off Nathan Kernaghan and Jack Woods respectively.
Loius Gaughan (4&2 v Raghav Gulati) got the pros back on course, but wins for Tom Nesbitt (4&2 v Sam McLaren), and Jonathan Selvaraj (4&3 v Luke Plumb) meant that the two-day epic came down to the last game and the last green.
Barry Pavic held a one-hole advantage with three to play, which would have meant a 16-16 tie and the amateurs retaining the trophy as defending champions. But up stepped Purna Sharma for the professionals, winning on 17 before halving the last.
That triggered a wave of celebrations from the Pros, and the Ams graciously accepted defeat 16.5-15.5 in one of the closest ever Dubai Golf Trophy clashes. Amid a sea of buggies, Sharma was embraced by his teammates before going on to lift the trophy.
“That was the hardest two-putt in my life,” Sharma told Golf Digest Middle East just after coming off the final green. “I can’t believe I held my nerve there.”
Chris May, CEO of organisers Dubai Golf, was on hand to watch the spectacle unfold. “It is such a privilege to host this great event that is steeped in UAE golf history. It raises the game and the standards of golf for the UAE, not just for the professional arena but across the globe for every aspiring golfer. We are delighted to be involved in such an occasion.”
It was quite the celebration to end a dramatic day. Mike Major, the non-playing pro captain reflected on a tumultuous weekend, having been on the receiving end for the past six years as a player.
“I guess we can take a hint. I don’t play and we finally win,” he joked, an ACL operation taking him out of this year’s playing capabilities. “But every player was tremendous today and every single one of them contributed points over the two days. For it to be so close shows you the quality on both sides of the ‘divide’. The Ams were brilliant but we managed to find that little bit more when needed … at long last. I must thank Dubai Golf for putting on such a great event, with both the Creek and the Majlis in impeccable conditions. It has been a long, long journey to get here this weekend and we are so glad to win.”
History-making Jackson added: “It is an honour to become the first female to play in this event as it gives us the recognition we deserve. But I really do not see the gender difference as these guys are all my colleagues and friends. I play with them every week and this just reflects how we should have more mixed events and prove we are all equals.”
Losing captain Yousuf was magnanimous, even if it was with a wry smile. “They were tremendous,” he said. “We thought we had a chance there at the end but they held on. It was a great two days but sadly we have to give up the trophy after six great years. We will regroup. There is a whole new batch of youngsters coming through and we will see who will make the grade. We are losing a few guys like Josh Hill, Toby Bishop, Yash and (non-playing UAE No.1 amateur) Ahmad Skaik. But as we have proved time and again, there are always more and more players coming through and, each year, the quality gets better and better. Congrats to the pros, it has been a long time for them.”
So now, the rebuilding begins once again before the 2023 showdown. Will the Pros or the Ams prevail? The Pros’ self-nominated spokesman Buchanan puts it best: “Who knows but this is the best weekend in UAE golf, bar none.”
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