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Teenage star Sana Tufail aims to balance golf with studies

England debutant is in no rush to turn professional

Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News
Sana Tufail practicing at Yas Island- Yas link Golf Club in Abu Dhabi
Gulf News

Dubai American golf prodigy Alexis ‘Lexi’ Thompson may have hit 15-under-par to win last December’s Omega Dubai Ladies Masters at just 16 years of age, but it was the efforts of debutante Sana Tufail which captured local interest.

The 15-year-old Abu Dhabi-based Brit, who was playing on a sponsor’s invite in her first Ladies European Tour event, hit a one-over par 73 on day one, eclipsing even some of the professionals she looked up to.

This was just one milestone of many claimed in the last few years by the British School Al Khubairat student, who plays off plus two and who earned her first handicap when she played in an Emirates Golf Federation (EGF) ladies’ event aged 11.

She was selected for Surrey Juniors and won the English Junior County Championships with that team aged 12. A year later, she took part in the English Amateur Ladies Championship.

But arguably the defining moment of her career to date was the British Ladies Open pre-qualifier in England where, aged 14, she played alongside professionals for the first time.

She proved she could hold her own in a star-studded field on the European Tour at the Ladies Masters, before a day two slump involving a score of 85 led to her missing the cut at 14-over.

That disappointment, coupled with the knowledge that she was capable of firing low scores in a championship field, certainly fired her up for what would prove to be an unforgettable domestic season.

Winning the 11-stage 2011/12 EGF Ladies Order of Merit with a formidable ten consecutive event titles in a row — a regional and international record at any age or gender — Tufail was firmly knocking on the doors of England selectors thereafter.

Following on from two second-place finishes in the merit standings in 2010 and 2011, Tufail’s latest title sits on her mantelpiece along with a 2009 ladies’ net championship and two junior girls’ net merits from 2008 and 2009.

This collection and the manner in which her latest title was won warranted an England Under-16s call-up, which came last month, confirming Sher place in the squad to play at the European Young Masters in Hungary from July 26-28. The winner here will go on to compete in September’s Junior Ryder Cup.

Tufail has thrived in the competitive atmosphere created by her father Haris and brother Sa’ad, always striving to keep pace with them.

Her coach Justin Parsons, director of instruction at Dubai Sports City’s Butch Harman School of Golf, says this upbringing has been the catalyst to her 240-yard drives.

“She doesn’t leave much behind and can make you look pretty silly off the tee,” Parsons said.

“Normally players with such a raw edge to their swing aren’t as organised, disciplined or regimented by nature, but Sana possesses both qualities.

“The turning point was the Dubai Ladies Masters. She reassessed her short game and worked on her weaknesses to return a stronger player.”

“They say you’re either born a short or long-game player, but there are simple methods to adjust aggressive, energetic players to become subtle when they need to be.

“Sana has the focus and patience to work on that, and I see no reason why, at the age of 19-21, she can’t go to qualifying school.”

Tufail, who is in her final year of studies, is relaxed about the prospect of professionalism.

“The best advice I was given was you can always get your swing back but you can’t get your GCSEs back,” she said.

“Universities would accept my golfing ability, but would also want high academic grades, so they’re my priority.

“I still need to play and perform regularly against strong competition and stay in the England team before I’m confident of my ability to make the next level, so there’s no rush.

“Anyway, I’ve been told turning professional too soon can cut a career short.”

Her father said: “She always played to enjoy herself in the early days. There was never any pre-set intention to become a good player.

“But then it became quite noticeable that she was quite talented, and in the last two years her handicap has fallen from nine to plus-two.

“My advice to her is to find a balance between golf and education. Sport can be a solid back-up to education and vice-versa. We just want her to enjoy herself and learn from the experience.”

Haris added that playing golf is similar to coping with life.

He said: “If you stay on the fairway, life is easy, but if you get off course, you’ll get into trouble.”