Tiger Woods and a host of stars have sparked an exceptional level of excitement for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
A strong field will tee off Thursday morning at the Majlis course in a quest to win the title, but only one will lift the coveted trophy on Sunday.
Here’s a hole-by-hole guide to one of the most celebrated courses in the UAE.
The 17-year-old won the MENA Golf Tour Amateur Order of Merit to earn his place in the oldest golf tournament in the Middle East, two weeks after he was given a special invitation to play the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Thomas, now ranked 112th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, said: “I’ve wanted to play the Dubai desert Classic for a while now. Since I was at least 12, I’ve been coming out to watch this event, and it’s great to be here at home.
“I know this place like the back of my hand. Hopefully, that will serve me well this week.”
Despite his knowledge of the golf course, Thomas admitted he was feeling slightly nervous.
“Yeah, a little bit. You always put a little pressure on yourself because you expect something more, but as long as I just play my best and stick to my routines, I will be fine,” said the teenager who became the youngest and the only amateur to win on the MENA Tour last year.
“I try not to give myself expectations, but you always expect something. I just want to play my best. That’s all I expect from myself.”
Thomas paid tribute to the MENA Tour for helping him achieve so much so early in his career.
“The MENA Tour has been great, playing there since I was 13. It has been a great place to hone my skills and build some confidence. From 2013, trying to make the amateur cut, going into my room and like waiting and just trying to look at the scores, keep refreshing the page…to now contending on that Tour,” he added.
“It’s the same now with the European Tour. Hopefully, I will get better as the years go through. But I am looking forward to playing more on the MENA Tour. They are doing a great job. They are expanding and hopefully I will be with them all the way to the end.”
One of the first congratulatory messages I received after winning the BMW International Open in Munich last year was from Mike Gerbich. Which was just so typical of the person he was – always the first to be on your side, irrespective of whether your times were good, or bad.
We exchanged messages and I knew he was battling hard with cancer. That was two weeks before the Open Championship. And then, on Monday of the Open, I got a call from his son Kashe and my friend Chris Turlik that Mike wasn’t doing too well. Kashe tried to organize a call, but he was too weak to speak.
A day later on Tuesday, my wife Emma joined me in Royal Troon. That evening both of us shed a few tears in our room. We knew what was going to happen. And on Wednesday morning, we got the message we never wanted to receive. Mike was gone. Gone too soon, I would say.
It felt like a blow. In the evening, I posted a picture of ours playing a pro-am in Dubai on my Facebook page. Going through the comments later, one short message made me pause. I think it read: “Go and win the Open for Mike”.
That’s really when it struck me. I spent some time thinking about it. I told myself that I was going to try my hardest. That kind of became the purpose of my week. To then have the outcome that we finally had, was very, very special.
When I said I felt his presence throughout the week, I really meant it. I definitely had a few short talks with him out on the golf course. If I hit a bad shot, I would have been upset with myself. But I did not let that happen that week, because I was playing for him. I did not want anything to interfere with the mission.
So, on Wednesday, when we play the Omega Dubai Desert Classic pro-am in his memory, it is going to be another emotional day for me. This golf course and this city was where I first met the man, who really was one the kindest and gentlest souls you can come across.
Mike was a fantastic friend and supporter of golf in general. He was so passionate about the game. I think he was good friends with everybody on the European Tour. He would be there at Emirates Golf Club throughout the week of the Desert Classic, making sure each and every professional and staff was comfortable.
The one thing everyone remembers about Mike was how eager he was to help. When Emma and I moved in here, he was the one to point us in the right direction whenever we needed something done. He helped us with the plumber, and he helped us with government offices. I think he took great pleasure in being a guardian.
Mike and his wife, Francie, who is an equally magnanimous person, attended our wedding here in 2006, and a few days before that, Mike, along with Chris, was the one who organized my bachelor’s party.
When the family moved to Arizona, we would meet every year during the WGC-Match Play. I also invited them a couple of times to the Masters. He became really good at social media – which doesn’t come easy to people his age – and even though we would not get together for months, it still felt we have been in touch on a regular basis.
I wish I had played more golf with him. Whenever we did, they were some of the most enjoyable rounds. He’d have a cigar on one side of his mouth, and his golf was hit it, find it, and hit it again. Like every golfer in the world, he wanted to get better, but what was evident was the fun he derived from the game.
The man really had a phenomenal appetite for life. He had the rare ability of putting a smile on any face. Even now, when I think of him, it is with a smile and not with tears in my eyes.
Those who have met him, will know about his trademark ‘badabing badabong’. I don’t know where he got that from, but that’s how he’d always end a funny comment. ‘Badabing Badabong’…gosh, I really want to hear that once again.
So, rest in peace my friend. You’ve done more than your fair share in making everyone down here happy. Now do the same up there.
(As told by Joy Chakravarty)
Mike Gerbich was a long-time resident of Dubai and past Captain of Emirates Golf Club. He died of cancer on July 13 last year, a day before the start of the Open. Today’s pro-am at Omega Dubai Desert Classic is being played in his memory.