The majority of stars donned pink to support breast cancer awareness yesterday at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic – although for Matthew Southgate, the gesture would have particularly resonated.
The 29-year-old Englishman is a testicular cancer survivor, having battled the disease in 2015. His own battle came months after niece Hettie, then only two-years-old, was diagnosed with leukaemia.
His illness led to the loss of his European Tour card, which he regained for 2016 by qualifying from European Tour Q-School.
As the world number 142 has slowly been regaining his health, so too has his form recovered.
He finished fourth behind Rory McIlroy at the 2016 Irish Open, qualifying for the Open Championship by winning the final qualifying at Royal Cinque Ports.
At Royal Birkdale that year he finished tied 12th and last year gained his best ever finish at a major by finishing in a share of sixth at the same event.
It was somehow fitting that on ‘Pink Friday’, already an emotional day for the Southend-on-Sea native, Southgate made a huge splash by sinking a hole in one on the par-3 seventh.
“It’s really special to anyone who’s had cancer in their lives, or their family’s lives. It just shows how much of an impact it has when everyone clubs together,” a beaming Southgate said of the Pink Friday initiative.
“That’s been my goal since my bout of cancer, I’ve been trying to raise awareness of lads going to get themselves checked and the girls are in the same boat.
“I think it’s something doctors are starting to conquer in the world, more people are surviving, so if we as a tour can club together for the day, I think it’s a really lovely way to show we are a family orientated tour and we care about each other rather than just making birdies and that sort of stuff.
“It’s important and it’s a really special day for all of us.”
Southgate had a perfect view of his hole in one on the 186-yard seventh, with its elevated tee. His tee shot pitched directly in line with hole, took one bounce, rattled the flag and disappeared.
Southgate’s wide smile still adorned his face in the mixed zone after his round, and is unlikely to be wiped away anytime soon.
“I could see it go in. It’s an elevated tee looking down but until it disappears, you don’t know,” he added.
“When it rattled the flag and went in it was a great moment. There was a photographer by the tee so he showed me some great pictures so perhaps I’ll get one of them framed for the games room.
“I played some really nice golf the first few holes and was one over. I wasn’t down in the dumps but I was thinking it’s a bit unfair.
“I haven’t made a cut in a while, that includes the break over Christmas, but it’s time that adds up so you start thinking about it.
“I’ve hit a lovely shot at seven, one shot and in she bounces in, so that really boosted me for the whole day, and every time I thought about it, it put a smile on my face, and I’ve always been a player that excels with a smile on my face.
“It’s good for the weekend and I’m moving up the leaderboard.”
It was his first hole in one on tour since joining in 2011. And he feels it may have had something to do with using a pink tee, something he’s never done before.
“I was robbed in Kazakhstan on the Challenger Tour my first year,” said Southgate.
“I played four rounds and hit the flag twice, lopped out once and hit another one to within three foot, I never thought I was going to get one.
“I’ve hit a few over the years, on the pitching course and with friends. And you need a bit of luck. I’ve kept the ball, kept the tee so it’s amazing. I always use a white tee peg too, never use another colour, but I used a pink one for Pink Friday so it’s nice to get it off that.”
His round of -4 under par saw Southgate sign for a 68 for the second straight day. It leaves him in a 15-way share of 14th, five shots off the lead of Wales’ Jamie Donaldson.
And he’s looking forward to challenging for a maiden European Tour crown.
“It’s set me up for the weekend but also the year too,” he said.
“I’ve always been a field player so I need to be on the course. You can’t create the atmosphere of being on tour on the pitting green. It’s not the same when you’re doing it to save par. I’m really looking forward to the weekend and going on to test myself against the field.”
Australia Day, his 32nd birthday and making the cut at Emirates Golf Club for the first time in six attempts – it was some day for Andrew Dodt.
The passionate Australian followed up his -5 under par opening round 67 with a -3 under par 69 on day two at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic Friday.
It gave him a share of 14th place going into moving day. And even though a double bogey on his final hole, the ninth, which would have placed him three shots off the lead in fifth alongside Rory McIlroy and Miguel Angel Jimenez, instead left him five shots back, the birthday boy was happy to have his cake and eat it.
“I’m not really worried about the last hole. It was 35 holes of solid golf so if you make a mistake or two around this course, you just have to accept it and move on,” said the Brisbane native, ranked 188th in the world.
“It was a little disappointing to finish the way I did but it’s a tricky hole and if you’re off by three or four yards you get penalised. And I paid the price.”
Dodt, who turned professional in 2007, missed successive cuts here from 2011-13 as well as the last two years, so he’s ecstatic to be in the running for this year’s title.
“It’s the first time I’ve made the cut in (six) years so I don’t know what course I was playing the last (six) years, but it’s nice to make it to four rounds finally,” he said.
“I’m two rounds in so another solid two would be nice to set the year up. I’m pleased with today’s round but I’ve got to get on with it.”
Dodt was all smiles after finishing his round, despite the poor end to it. That might have had something to do with the birthday cake he was presented with in the mixed zone.
His score, and his performance over the first two days in Dubai, is something that made an already special day even more poignant.
“I’m a massive Aussie fan and a proud Aussie but you can’t beat a birthday,” added Dodt, buoyed by a fervent following he had around the course from a sizeable Australian community here in Dubai.
“There was a guy roaring and clapping everything in to the hole. He was really aggressive but it’s good. You don’t get that support all year so it’s nice to have it here.”
Dodt, who is staying with a friend from home who lives in Dubai, said he would celebrate his achievement accordingly, while keeping in mind he’s in the unfamiliar position of having a trophy to fight for.
“Australia Day for me and most Aussies, it’d normally be beach in the morning, barbecue at lunch and just that all day.
“It’s a massive day in Australia and if it’s good weather, everyone goes to the beach, has a barbecue. That’s normally what I’d be doing but I’ve got a tournament to play.”
Jamie Donaldson remains the man to catch after a weather-affected second day of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, with Rory McIlroy well placed in the chasing pack.
After fog delayed the start of play by two hours and 50 minutes, Donaldson added a 69 to his opening 62 at Emirates Golf Club to set the clubhouse target at 13 under par.
That gave the 42-year-old Welshman a one-shot lead over China’s Li Haotong, who completed a second successive 66, with South Africa’s Branden Grace a shot further back following a 65. Sweden’s Alexander Bjork is also 11 under with six holes remaining.
A late double bogey meant 54-year-old Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez had to settle for a 68 to finish 10 under par alongside South Africa’s Thomas Aiken, with McIlroy on the same score with seven holes to play.
Donaldson, who had flirted with carding the first 59 on the European Tour on Thursday, understandably struggled to reproduce that sort of scoring, but recorded four birdies and a solitary bogey in pursuit of a first win since December 2015.
“I have backed up low scores like that with another one but today it wasn’t to be,” Donaldson told Sky Sports. “But yeah, quite happy with a 69.
“It was pretty solid again. Drove the ball well. Iron shots were good. Took the birdies generally when I hit it close enough, could have played the par fives maybe a little bit better. I went for it a bit on the last there, trying to get it right around the corner and blocked myself out.
“If you shoot three under on the par fives as opposed to one, then it’s a different day. But overall I’m happy.”
McIlroy made a flying start to his second round with three birdies in the first five holes, before dropping his first shot of the week following a wayward drive on the eighth.
The four-time major winner, who marked his first competitive start since October with a tie for third in Abu Dhabi last week, bounced back with a birdie on the 10th and parred the next before play was suspended for the day.
The second round is scheduled to resume at 7.30am local time on Saturday.