Henrik Stenson
Stenson spoke to Gulf News ahead of the Saudi Open Image Credit: Supplied

Former Open Championship winner Henrik Stenson “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Middle East produced a golfer capable of winning an elite-level professional event over the next 10-15 years.

The Swede, who has been a frequent visitor to tournaments in the UAE over the course of his career, has seen first-hand the benefits of the Asian and DP World Tour visiting countries across the globe, citing Thailand as an up-and-coming destination for producing Tour level players.

“We see the game growing all over Asia,” Stenson told Gulf News ahead of last week’s Saudi Open.

“One of the observations I’ve made is that Thailand seems to have developed quite a lot of players. There seems to be a lot of Thai players on the Asian Tour, a lot more than I remember ten to 15 years ago.

“You can see certain countries making strides and it seems that Thailand having been producing a lot of good players lately.”

While there is currently no professional golfer from the Middle East holding full playing rights for any of the globe’s major Tours, things are heading in the right direction.

Just last week, Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club hosted the second edition of the Abu Dhabi Challenge, which saw a record number of UAE National Team players receive an invite thanks to the Emirates Golf Federation’s long-term partnership with the European Tour group.

Rayan Ahmed
Rayan Ahmed shone on his Challenge Tour debut Image Credit: Supplied

Rayan Ahmed was the pick of the bunch for the team, carding a first round 66 before narrowly missing the cut with a second round 72 – all while rubbing shoulders with the likes of five-time DP World Tour winner Alex Levy and 2023 European Ryder Cup Vice Captain Nicolas Colsaerts.

There was also history created in Saudi Arabi last week at the Asian Tour’s Saudi Open, where the Kingdom’s Khalid Walid became the first amateur from the country to make the cut in a professional Tour event.

With a whole host of initiatives in place to grow the game at grassroots level in the Middle East, two-time DP World Tour Championship winner Stenson believes it won’t be too long before the region produces a winner at Tour level.

“Yeah, I think there could be if you have good coaching, funding and opportunities,” said Stenson.

“Of course, you’ve got to have a pool to pull talent from, and then refine that talent. The bigger the pool, the more players you have and the bigger the chances you have to develop strong players – we’ve seen that time and time again.

“I think that’s probably the biggest challenge for smaller countries or places where golf is a smaller sport as you don’t have the talent pool to pull from. But you can still do really good work with limited numbers if you implement the right structure.

“I think a lot of places are doing that. They are doing that here (Middle East), from coaching staff to everything that goes around player development. So, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a winner from this part of the world.”