The 2022 golfing season is getting up to speed and the Desert Swing is fast approaching, with big-money tournaments in the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia spanning both the European DP World Tour and the Asian Tour for the first time.
Two men who know just how important a winning start to the year can be on tour are 2021 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship king Tyrrell Hatton, and Shane Lowry, 2019 winner of the same event.
The next few weeks will be fast and furious as the Abu Dhabi Championship takes place at Yas Links for the first time from January 20-23, the DP World Tour’s first Rolex Series event. That is swiftly followed by its second — the Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club — which carries an identical and whopping $8 million purse,
At the start of February, the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Championship gets under way at Al Hamra Golf Club, with $2 million on offer, and the Qatar Masters goes ahead at Doha Golf Club from February 10-13.
Not to be outdone, the Asian Tour launches its $5 million flagship event — the Saudi international — over the same period, taking place from February 3-6, the same weekend as the RAK Championship.
England’s world No. 22 Hatton and Irishman Lowry, now 44th in the rankings, will be eager to pick up some silverware early in the season for a number of factors.
“I won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in 2019 to start my season and I went on to have a pretty good year,” said Lowry on a video chat from his winter base in Florida — quite an understatement as he went on to win the Open Championship at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland in 2019. “Winning early in the season gives you a boost and really eases the pressure for the rest of the season. There are also a few good ranking points on offer and I could do with a few of those to get back up the standings.
“Every time I have come out to play in the Middle East it is after a good long break over Christmas, so you are never quite sure what will happen — I have missed a few cuts as well as having some great tournaments. But if you can knock off one of the early ones it certainly adds to your confidence.”
Hatton also agrees as most players come into the Desert Swing after a winter break to recharge the batteries.
“You are still feeling your game out at that stage,” he said. “But if you get in contention, your head gets into a more competitive place and if you can grab the win, the confidence grows for the events ahead.”
The Saudi international at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City has added some spice to this year’s calendar as it moves from the European Tour to the Asian tour, with a massive boost in prize money and a stellar field including top names such as Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau Sergio Garcia, Xander Schauffele, Tommy Fleetwood and Phil Mickelson.
“I love desert golf and I have played many of the events out here. It is great to have one added to the Asian Tour — with one of the biggest and strongest fields I have seen in world golf,’ said Lowry. “I played there the past two years and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at a new event, but the set-up is really great and I have played some good golf — even if I have not quite contended for the title.
“It suits my game at Royal Greens if I can get going. The wind picks up in the afternoons so you really need to take advantage of your morning tee time and shoot a good score that day. In the afternoon, you get the wind blowing off the water there and it’s quite tricky — especially that 16th hole where you have to start the ball out in the ocean there and let it come back.
Hatton added: “I made my debut last year and we finished tied-sixth, which was a solid showing. We had a pretty pleasant week on and off the course and I am looking forward to going back.”
Hatton did not fare quite as well as Lowry after his win in Abu Dhabi last year as he struggled for the rest of the season, but he remains undeterred and has the hunger to defend his title at the competition’s new home at Yas Links.
“From may onwards it was a bit of a disappointing season after the win in Abu Dhabi, being world No. 5 and a decent Desert Swing. Results didn’t go my way after that but that’s golf. We shall see what happens but hopefully I can get back to where I was around this time last year.”
As for Lowry, he is fully recharged after the holidays with his wife and two young daughters, and is raring to go once again.
“I was glad to put the clubs away for a good few weeks over Christmas and enjoy time with the family,” he said. “Iris is four now and she really got the whole Santa thing this year. But I have my hunger back after not winning a tournament last year, so that would be good to remedy, maybe get into a solid top 20 spot and focus on the majors — the Masters is not that far away in May — and then concentrate on getting back in the Ryder Cup team to win back the trophy next year in Rome. If I can do that I know I am playing well.”