Golfer Ahmed Al Musharrekh carries the weight of a nation on his shoulders as the only Emirati professional.
Not that the responsibility bothers the 25-year-old, who is happy shouldering the burden. He is a warm and engaging character, always laughing, but he believes he has a responsibility to help fellow Emiratis follow in his footsteps.
He is aware his performance in the future will be key to putting UAE golf on the map and inspiring others.
After winning team gold medals in the 2011 Arab Games, claiming the 2012 GCC Championship title confirmed his talent. He’s currently competing on the MENA Tour but is dreaming of one day making it big in Europe or America.
Earlier this year, he competed at the Gary Player Invitational at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club in Abu Dhabi and spoke to Sport360.
Is it lonely being the only Emirati professional golfer?
There’s none at the moment, so I’m the only one. I turned pro three years ago and have been on the journey since. I had last year off because of national service in the navy, which was mandatory, but a great experience. I’m excited to be back now playing golf and moving on with the game.
What’s it been like since you turned pro?
It’s been a huge change. It’s more physically and mentally challenging, on and off the course. It’s not like having a hobby where you’re just a boy and having fun playing, carefree and happy, with nothing on your shoulders. All of a sudden, you turn pro and you’ve got all this expectation, from yourself, but also externally. That’s been a huge shift, having to play with that and dealing with stuff off the course, like social media, sponsorships, and having to grow up. It’s something I’ve had to deal with. But we see great examples of this on tour, you see all these young guys thriving and dealing with things in a fantastic way, so it just gives me a push to keep going and see where I get to.
You’re back on the MENA Tour this year. What is the aim?
I want to do well on the tour. It’s competitive but it’s also on my local ground. If I play my best I think I can win tournaments. So we’ll see what happens.
What were some of the biggest challenges about turning pro for you and how did you do it?
I had to make that move. I was in my second year at university, doing great and enjoying it, taking business management and learning a lot. I sat down with my coach Wayne Johnson at Jumeirah Golf Estates and we were talking about ambitions. He said if I wanted to do it, I had to do it then. There was no point waiting another two years, because I’d start drifting away from the game. The competition is always getting better. We see that on the tours. All these young guys, even the older guys, are shooting great numbers, so Wayne said the longer I leave it, the more I was losing out on these opportunities. Time is ticking and I was not getting younger, so we came up with the decision. I turned pro two weeks after that.
What was the toughest part about taking the plunge?
The shift in mentality from amateur to professional. The numbers are getting so low. I can shoot the numbers, it’s just that shooting them for four days is something you have to get used to. All these guys are playing week in, week out. I’m just excited to get in there and see what I can do.
What’s been the most enjoyable thing for you since making the decision?
Making the move and being the first Emirati professional. It’s a nice position to be in and it’s a further motivation to do well. Hopefully, others will follow. We’ve opened the first foundation for UAE nationals (Ahmed Al Musharrekh Foundation). They’re looking up to me so knowing that kids are looking at you and idolising you, it pushes you to do better.
Above winning the MENA Tour, what are your ambitions for the future?
Moving into the US, playing in Europe, I think that’s the ultimate goal for any golfer. I’m not sure how far I am from doing that. I wish it could happen right now but I think I will have to take it one day at a time. That’s all I can do, play my game, eat good food, do my workouts in the gym and let it work itself out.
Do you think we could have a handful of Emirati professionals following in your footsteps in the future?
Absolutely. My success will dictate that. If I can get a tour card in the US or Europe, the kids here would be more pushed to follow me and there are so many talented golfers. At Sharjah Golf Club, they’re taking really good care of youngsters. In Dubai with the Emirates Golf Federation they have a lot of kids moving up the ladder, training and competing hard. In Abu Dhabi, we now have the HSBC programme. So there’s a lot of hope.
Why was it golf for you as a kid?
Easy answer. It was different. I played basketball, football, baseball, and was actually not a bad footballer, but there was something about golf. It’s just you out there, and I think every golfer can relate to that. Your emotions, feelings, body and mind all has to be one. It’s up to you, there’s no manager or team-mates, it’s just you out there and you need to execute. I fell in love with the fact that you have to rely on yourself and master yourself in order to play well.
Who was your idol?
Tiger Woods. Definitely. He’s a legend and in my eyes he’s still the greatest that’s ever lived, regardless of what everyone else says. I still think he’ll come back. I met him at the Dubai Desert Classic in 2006 and hit a few shots with him. That was the only opportunity I had but he was a great guy. I hit a few shots and we had a good vibe going.
The MENA Golf Tour will hit the South African shores next week when the South to East Challenge, the first of a three-event leg co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Big Easy Tour, is played at Zwartkop Golf Club in Centurion from June 7-9.
Marking a significant step forward in giving flight to the careers of its members, the golfing safari to the Rainbow Nation will see the MENA players mix with Big Easy Tour stars and vie for honours and a purse of half a million rand for each event — counting towards the Orders of Merit of both the Tours.
The field for the events will feature the top 84 professionals and 12 leading amateurs, split equally between the two Tours.
The new partnership with the Big Easy Tour goes well beyond staging co-sanctioned tournaments as its knock-on effects will see the top five professionals on the MENA Golf Tour’s end-of-season Order of Merit earn playing privileges on the main Sunshine Tour.
In addition, MENA Golf Tour players, ranked between six and 15, will be exempt into the final stage of the Sunshine Tour’s Qualifying School in a move aimed at creating meaningful playing opportunities for players.
“Our new tie-up with South Africa is a great development for golf, one that will resonate on many levels and reinforce the growing strength of the game in the MENA region,” said Mohamed Juma Buamaim, chairman of the MENA Tour.
“The land of Gary Player and Ernie Els not only has a strong pedigree in golf, but it also boasts some of the best and most beautiful golf courses in the world.
“I am confident our members will have fun playing there alongside Big Easy Tour players.”
Calling it a positive step forward, Grant Wilson, COO of the Sunshine Tour, said: “We look forward to work closely with the MENA Golf Tour to ensure the three-event series is successful.
“We are very excited with our association with the MENA Tour, which, I am confident, will benefit members of both the Tours and help further stimulate the growth.”
I once asked Greg Norman his No1 reason why the Australian professional golfers do so well in tournaments across the world.
The legendary Great White Shark did not have to think much for the answer. “It’s just that we travel well. We seem to adjust wherever you take us.”
Going by Norman’s philosophy, Christofer Rahm seems to be making the right career decision. The 18-year-old Dubai-based Swede, recently crowned Emirates Golf Federation’s Men’s Order of Merit winner this season, is determined to become a professional golfer.
So far, thanks to his father Magnus’ job with Ericsson, he has lived in Sweden, Spain, Brazil and India, before moving to the UAE in 2014.
Winner of four of the 10 EGF Order of Merit events he participated in this season, the Jumeirah Golf Estates (JGE) member Rahm is planning to spend another year playing amateur golf in the UAE. He will then go to the United States for college golf, and turn pro while earning his degree.
“It was nice to secure the Order of Merit win this year. I played in a few EGF tournaments last year, but wasn’t a member until late in the season,” said Rahm, who secured a couple of second place finishes in 2014-15.
“But this year was different. I played consistently throughout the year. I may not have scored very low rounds, but I was very consistent. The only tournament I did not play well was at the JGE. Maybe, I was feeling the home pressure.”
Having finished his school (American School of Dubai) this week, Rahm is planning to take a gap this year in studies, but there is a good reason for that.
“I want to take a break from my studies to focus on golf. I want to practice a lot and play several tournaments this year,” said Rahm who aspires to join the Northwestern University in Chicago because of the quality of their golf team and playing facilities in the campus.
“I will play the EGF events, and I am going to play on the MENA Golf Tour. The main thing is that I want to improve further as a golfer before I go to the US. I do want to get a degree, but I am determined to play golf professionally.”
Having lived in various parts of the world, Rahm is loving it in Dubai. “I enjoy it a lot. The UAE is a great place to live, and even more so if you are a golfer. The golf courses and the practice facilities are great and so is the weather,” said Rahm.
“I practice at the European Tour Performance Institute (ETPI) in JGE. They have great facilities and some very good coaches. I was training with Mathew Parker there. Unfortunately, he moved on, but we are still in touch.
“The last time I was in Sweden, all my friends were coaching indoors. That’s never an issue here in Dubai. I do not mind the summer heat and prefer it to cold weather any day.”
The effect of travel shows on Rahm. While fellow Swede Henrik Stenson is his favourite golfer, his childhood idol was the late Seve Ballesteros.
“Of all the golfers, I love Henrik. What I like most about him is he is always up there, but more importantly, he is a very good human being,” said Rahm.
“But growing up in Spain, I idolized Seve. I loved his imagination on the golf course.
“I feel I am a bit like Seve. I am not all about technique. I like being creative on the golf course like him.”
Rahm understands he is about to embark on a difficult journey, and says this would not have been possible without the support of his parents Magnus and Cecilia.
“What I have achieved and what I dream could not have been possible without them. Even after a bad round, they are there to encourage me. Really, they are my biggest fans,” he added.