Rising star Jordan Smith returned to where it all began at Al Hamra Golf Club, having won the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge in 2016 that catapulted him into the spotlight.
That victory on the Challenge Tour helped him finish first in the Order of Merit and secure a European Tour card for 2017 – of which he has already taken full advantage.
The 24-year-old won the Porsche European Open in July before making an impact on a worldwide stage with a top-10 finish at the PGA Championship.
Smith recently retraced his steps at Al Hamra Golf Club, catching up with Sport360 reporter Chris Bailey above on the impact of that success and a remarkable year to date.
— Sport360° (@Sport360) September 15, 2017
With this year’s Ras Al Khaimah Golf challenge is just around the corner – starting on October 25 – a new star could well be born by the end of this month.
The prospect of seeing a home-grown player from the UAE making it on the world golfing stage is edging closer to becoming a reality thanks to the ongoing success of the DP World-funded Emirates Golf Federation (EGF) Arabic Schools Initiative.
The innovative programme, which is also supported by the European Tour, launched last year with the first phase seeing the EGF — with the assistance of Golf DXB — visiting six UAE schools to give ‘Golf Taster’ sessions to over 3,000 students.
Fifty children were also treated to a visit to the European Tour’s season-ending tournament, the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates, where they had a ‘behind the scenes’ tour to get a taste of what is involved in running a world-class golf tournament.
During the introductory phase, 100 children took up memberships at golf clubs across the region. The astounding influx of new young golfers prompted the EGF to create four Foundation Squads at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, Emirates Golf Club, The Track Meydan, Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club and Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club.
In addition to their ongoing development at their respective clubs, the Foundation Squads, made up of 40 children, along with the UAE National Squad, are to have access once a month to one of the very best training facilities in the world with coaching sessions at the European Tour Performance Institute (ETPI) at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
The ETPI at the famous Dubai venue is one of only two such facilities in the world and home to some of the most cutting-edge equipment available as well as a team of world-class coaches who will help the EGF achieve the goal of bringing the children in the Foundation Squads onto the UAE National Squad within 12 to 18 months.
Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, DP World Group Chairman and CEO, said: “We are delighted to be able to support this major initiative and to play a part in the development of our UAE National Golf Teams.
“Supporting grassroots golf is central to our involvement in the sport and something we care very passionately about. The growth of the game in the region is extremely important to us and giving local golfers access to facilities such as the world-renowned European Tour Performance Institute at Jumeirah Golf Estates offers them the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.”
Adel Zarouni Emirates Golf Federation Vice Chairman said: “With the support of DP World, the EGF has been able to see rapid growth at the grassroots level which is pushing the National Junior Development Program.
“With a successful EGF Arabic Schools Golf Initiative over the last year and a half, the EGF is excited to reach the next step of our program by creating the UAE Foundation Squads.
“Again, with the passion and support from DP World devoted to the Foundation Squads, we are excited to see our young boys and girls enhance their golf game by using the European Tour Performance Institute at Jumeirah Golf Estates for elite training and player analysis.”
Nick Tarratt Director European Tour International Dubai Office, added: “The European Tour is delighted to be joining DP World in supporting this forward-thinking initiative which is a shining example of joined up thinking between stakeholders in the local golf community.
“Last year’s introductory phase was an overwhelming success, resulting in a huge influx of local school children taking up the sport of golf.
“It will be fascinating to see how the youngsters who have joined the Foundation Squads progress in the next phase of their development under the guidance of the EGF, the local golf clubs, and the wonderful coaches at the European Tour Performance Institute.
“Children are the key to the future of the game at all levels and initiatives like this are crucial in ensuring golf’s continued growth here in the UAE and around the world.”
MG Keyser survived a shaky start and a late wobble to complete a tense victory in the Dubai Creek Open on Wednesday.
The 30-year-old South African, two in front overnight, closed with a level-par 71 to finish on 13-under for the tournament, beating his nearest rivals, Dubai-based Rayhan Thomas, and England’s Todd Clements of England — both amateurs — by two shots for his maiden win on the MENA Tour.
Keyser, who is now based in Dubai, made a bogey-double bogey start, but showed steely resilience, picking up three shots in his next four holes to regain the lead. Just when he appeared to be cruising home, Keyser double-bogeyed the 17th after smashing his drive into the Dubai Creek, but he kept his calm under pressure.
Standing on the final hole with a one-shot lead, he managed a solid par four as Thomas was unable to recreate the brilliance of his second-round 61, studded with world record-equalling nine birdies in a row, and three-putted from 15 yards to settle for tied second.
“It feels great to get the job done. I am really enjoying my golf for the last six months or so. Just keep working hard on my game and just keep smiling is what I strive to do,” said Keyser after receiving the winner’s trophy from MENA Tour patron Darren Clarke, who himself featured in the field.
“It was some battle out there after that nightmarish start, but I played well in the middle and kept it going, though Rayhan, who is a good friend, did put some pressure.
“After that double-bogey (on the 17th), I hit a good drive on the final hole and managed to make par which, in the end, proved enough to see off Rayhan,” Keyser added, who won his first professional title in an Asian Development Tour event in Malaysia last year.
Thomas felt he had his chances to become the first amateur to retain his title, but made too many mistakes out there. “Missing at least three close range birdie putts, especially a four-footer on the 15th, cost me dearly. MG is probably the best player I have ever played with on the MENA Tour. He thoroughly deserved to win,” said the 17-year- old, who matched Keyser’s course record of a 61 in the second round.
Playing in the company of Clarke, young Clements shot a bogey-free 66 to move into a tie for second with Thomas in a reflection of the rising standards of amateurs on the MENA Tour.
The 2011 Open champion Clarke carded a final round 74 to settle for a share of 16th on two-under while Fredrik From of Sweden and India’s Abhishek Jha were tied for fourth on seven-under, one ahead of a five-man ground, which included Hamza Amin of Pakistan.
The MENA Tour next travels to the Els Club for the GOLF CITIZEN Classic, starting on Monday.
— MENA Tour (@theMENATour) September 13, 2017