Ladies European Tour star Maha Haddioui is hoping to inspire the next generation of female golfers in the region when she tees off at the women’s Olympic Games golf tournament on Wednesday.
The Moroccan, who is the only Arab in the field, will compete against some of the best female golfers on the planet at Kasumigaseki Country Club as they bid to get their hands on an Olympic medal in Japan.
“I’m very excited, of course,” said Haddioui, who spoke to me from her base in Japan. “It’s a great opportunity to represent my country and do something great. The Rio games was an amazing experience and I’m sure Tokyo will be just as amazing.
“Playing for your country rather than just yourself is always special. Baring a flag means you’re on a different kind of mission during the Olympics and, externally, sports become the number one focus on the planet with so much media coverage. It’s amazing.
“It also means a lot to me being the only golfer representing the region. I don’t feel it as more pressure or a burden but I’m rather just glad to be there representing us on the world stage.”
It will be the second successive Games Haddioui has competed in after making her debut in golf’s return to the Olympics at Rio 2016. The 33-year-old finished bottom of the pack over the Olympic Golf Course after letting the pressure get to her, but with a harsh lesson learnt she’s aiming to right those wrongs this time out.
“It was a very new experience for me and to be completely honest it wasn’t the best either,” she said.
“I had a lot of pressure on myself. When I look back at it I put that pressure on myself. I tried too hard. Tensed up too much and therefore couldn’t be at my best potential which made the week feel dreadful. Outside of my performance, the Rio Games were amazing and to be part of the team and being in the Olympic Village with all the athletes was really inspiring.
“I’ve learnt that I need to understand that I will have my chances. To take this as an opportunity I have forged and created for myself. It gives a different perspective looking at an event as a chance or opportunity to do well rather than with fear of not succeeding.”
It has been quite the journey to the professional circuit for Haddioui. She started playing golf at the age of 12 and it was not until she completed her studies in the USA that she thought of playing professionally.
She went on to become the first, and only, Arab golfer to secure a Ladies European Tour card in 2013 and is hoping others will follow suit in the future as she looks to use the Games’ global platform as a springboard to inspire the next generation of Arab golfers in the region.
“I really hope so,” she replied when asked about inspiring others from Arab nations. “Golf being in the Olympics has taken the game to a different level. During the Olympics everybody watches every sport and gets interested in sports they usually don’t even think about. I would love to see more women playing this sport across the region, it is such a great sport.
“My advice to Arab females looking to get into the game would be to give it a try. Many people have misconceptions about golf and are very surprised once they’ve tried it. So, get to your local golf club or driving range and give it go and have fun with it.”
The competition gets under way at 2.30am UAE time on Wednesday and viewers in the MENA region can follow Haddioui’s progress live on BeIN Sports.