After being part of the first wave of professional golfers to tee it up in the United Arab Emirates in the late 1980s, former Ryder Cup player Barry Lane is excited to return to the Middle East at the Sharjah Senior Golf Masters presented by Shurooq.
The 56-year-old was the only player to participate in the first 25 editions of the Dubai Desert Classic, from 1989 to 2014, and has fond memories of the UAE. Ahead of the first event of the 2017 European Senior Tour season, Lane is one of 57 golfers preparing for the first tournament to be held in the Emirate of Sharjah this week.
“There have been some massive changes in this country since I first played here in 1989,” said Lane, who is making his first appearance at Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club. “I have played well in the Emirates over the years, I finished third in Dubai twice and sixth four times.”
“I like coming here, and at this time of year the weather is perfect. It’s a shock to the system coming to 30 degrees, I live in Gothenburg in Sweden and it has been minus 15 over there.”
Lane is the most recent winner on the Senior Tour after his success at the 2016 season-ending MCB Tour Championship in Mauritius, where he collected his fifth over-50s title, adding to the five he won on the European Tour.
“I had six second-place finishes and a few thirds since the last time I won on the Senior Tour in 2012,” he said. “I hadn’t realised it had been so many years between wins.”
“I played well from September onwards and carried it through. I feel like I’m playing as well, if not better, than I was in Mauritius. I went over to America at the start of the year and practised and played a lot.”
“The game seems to still be there and I’m really looking forward to this season.”
The 57-man field in Sharjah will make history this week at the first European Tour-sanctioned event to be played on a nine-hole golf course.
“It’s a lovely course,” said Lane. “It’s a proper nine-hole course, and it will make a tough 18-hole course. I’m not quite sure what the final score will be to be honest. It’s difficult to get close to the flags and some of the greens are tricky to read, it has been set up really nicely for a tournament. We play from different tees on the par threes and par fives, which I think is very sensible.”
“I think the hardest challenge will be forgetting what you had done the first time you played the hole and refocusing. It will be different for us, but anything different is good.”
“After all the rain they’ve had in the United Arab Emirates recently, it will be good to be playing in the sunshine again at Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club in this inaugural event” said the reigning European Senior Tour No1, who will be among the star names lining up in the event which is taking place from March 16-18.
“I’ve played very little this year and the weather so far in England certainly hasn’t been conducive to golf. My first competitive round of 2017 will be in the Pro-Am at Sharjah and I can’t wait. I played in the first Dubai Desert Classic in 1989 and since then I have loved coming to play in the Middle East.”
The tournament also marks the first time a European Senior Tour event will be played on a nine-hole course.
Broadhurst had to bide his time to join the Senior ranks following the end of his career on the European Tour, which saw him win six titles. He was even considering giving up the game or going into coaching prior to turning 50 midway through the 2015 season.
“I had waited almost four years to play on the Senior Tour,” said the 51-year-old Englishman, who won his first Senior major by defeating American Scott McCarron by two shots over the daunting Carnoustie Links on his Senior Open Championship debut last year.
Broadhurst then headed off to the USA and another famous links course, at Pebble Beach, where he won the Nature Valley First Tee Open.
His stunning victory in the United States earned him the accolade of Rookie of the Year on the PGA Champions Tour, having collected the prestigious John Jacobs Trophy as No1 on the European Senior Tour Order of Merit.
“Life changed dramatically for me thanks to that breakthrough win in the Senior Open at Carnoustie,” said Broadhurst, who won both of his matches in The Ryder Cup in 1991 at Kiawah Island.
“People ask which was the biggest and best win of my career, and without doubt I have to say the Senior Open. However, it was extremely satisfying to follow that up by beating the Americans in their own ‘backyard’.
“I felt it proved that Carnoustie wasn’t a flash in the pan and it probably earned me the respect of my peers over there. It doesn’t really come much bigger than winning at Carnoustie and then Pebble Beach.”
Broadhurst is hoping to recreate the form that made him a Senior star when he returns for the defence of his Senior Open Championship at Royal Porthcawl Golf Club this summer and he’s delighted to be starting the build up to that in the UAE as the Senior Tour comes to Sharjah for the first time.
“The courses are fantastic, the weather is nearly always great, the hotels are wonderful and the people are so friendly,” he says. “I played in the Sharjah Senior Invitational Pro-Am last March with Des Smyth, Malcolm Mackenzie and Ronan Rafferty, which was an ideal way of introducing the main event onto the Senior Tour Schedule, and I enjoyed every moment.”
The Sharjah Senior Golf Masters presented by Shurooq takes place at Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club from March 16-18 and entry is free of charge for all.
Life has come full circle for Dustin Johnson. Hailed as an incredible talent when he won on the PGA Tour in his very first season, the American faced ridicule when he took leave of absence from the Tour in 2014 to overcome some “personal challenges”.
But he came back in style, and Sunday’s win at the Genesis Open gave him something very few players can ever relate to – the right to be called No1 golfer in the world. That Johnson is a man of few words is well known.
He has still maintained a silence on what happened to him in 2014, something that many believe he needs to speak about so that there is no stigma attached to what is fast developing into one of the most successful careers in professional golf.
All kind of conjecture were made. Johnson was known to have drinking issues – he was even arrested for driving under the influence in 2009 – but there were whispers of drug abuse and sex scandals as well.
But DJ being DJ, he has mostly let his clubs do the talking. Ever since he won the US Open last year in Oakmont – a win that seems vital for him to shake the monkey off on his back of blowing it up when in contention in the majors – Johnson has been playing a different level of golf.
He has already won four times since June 2016, and despite the heroics of Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth this year, he has collected the most number of world ranking points.
He missed the cut at Torrey Pines during the Farmers Insurance Open, but he finished runnerup the week before in Abu Dhabi and then was third at Pebble Beach before winning the Genesis Open.
That has given him 120.80 points, with Thomas tallying 102.08 and Spieth 99.14. Johnson is known for making fast starts to his season and the Masters is still more than six weeks ago, but given the consistency he has shown lately, you would expect him to carry his form to Augusta National.
THE DISTANCE DEBATE
A report released last week by game’s governing bodies the R&A and the USGA is initiating a lot of heated discussion.
The research document examines driving distance data from seven of the major professional tours and concluded that between 2003 and the end of the 2016 season, the average driving distance on five of the seven tours increased by approximately 1.2 per cent, which is around 0.2 yards per year.
The distance travelled by the modern ball has been a massive talking point in golf. The general consensus seems to be that players are hitting the ball much further because of the technology used in both clubs, and the balls.
There is a fear that many of the classic golf courses have already been rendered obsolete, and that millions will have to be spent if the golf courses want to stay ahead of the distance game.
The governing bodies keep a very close eye on the technology being used by the original equipment manufacturers, and there are various limitation on what can be done with the clubs.
But they haven’t really done much about the balls, and are under lot of pressure to rein them in. However, this research shows the R&A and the USGA have been right all along. Just take the example of Dustin Johnson.
One of the longest hitters in the game, he averaged 309.7 yards in 2009, and that has increased to just 314.6 yards this year.
In 2003, Hank Keuhne was the longest driver on the PGA Tour at 321.4 yards, followed by John Daly at 314.3 yards.
In 2016, JB Holmes led the stat 314.4 yards, with Johnson second at 313.6. However, what has changed is the fact that in 2003, only nine players averaged more than 300 yards, but in 2016, 27 players were hitting past that mark.
So, it is quite clear that while the driving distances hasn’t increased significantly, the number of players who are hitting it long has. And one of the reasons many golf courses are yielding low scores is because the players are certainly hitting it a lot straighter.
The modern drivers are a lot more forgiving with mishits than the persimmon and wooden ones. Once you are on the fairway, making a birdie becomes a lot more easier compared to when you are in the thick stuff.