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UAE look to restore regional dominance

Vallendar’s side want to make up for Pan Arab slip with GCC Championship defence

Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Archives
Khalid Yousuf of UAE in action on the second day of 16thGCC golf championship at Dubai Creek golf club on Tuesday.
Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE’s national golf team have a point to prove heading into next week’s GCC Championships in Oman after seeing their regional dominance slip at the Pan Arab Championships last November.

Chris Vallendar’s side were on course for an historic treble of events last year, having won the GCC Championships and Arab Games. However, the absence of key players saw them slump to sixth in their third and final test in Bahrain.

Khalid Yousuf was missing due to work commitments, while Ahmad Al Musharrakh had taken the decision to turn professional, ruling him out of amateur national team competition indefinitely.

Yousuf is now back to join up with Ahmad’s brother Abdullah, plus Suhail Al Marzouqi and Said Malik, but a question mark still hangs over the squad as to whether they can defend their GCC title and restore damaged pride.

The GCC Championship, involving all six GCC nations, will be held at The Waves’ Al Mouj Golf Club in Muscat from Saturday through to Tuesday.

“We’ve got to pick ourselves up from the Pan Arab Championships. It was difficult as we didn’t have our regulars together, but now that the bulk is back we should have a stronger team,” Vallendar told Gulf News.

“Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi will be our biggest threats, but we can’t discount Oman and Kuwait either. It’s tougher than previous years.”

He added: “The course doesn’t give way to low scores. It’s a new facility full of intricacies and, if the wind blows, it will pose a difficult challenge for everybody.

“Our scores haven’t been as high as we’d like, with mid to high 70s and a couple of under pars. But we have gained more confidence from practice and regular play in the local opens and we should stand a good chance.”

Joining the UAE senior team will be a junior squad made up of Ahmad Al Budoor, Ahmad Skaik and Abdullah Al Qubaisi and coached by youth team coach Jason Froggatt.

Having finished third in their first competitive outing as a team in last year’s GCC Championship and fifth in the Pan Arabs, the junior team is still on an experience drive to clock up playing time, but that hasn’t stopped Froggatt from aiming high.

“If we play well there we could get silver, but gold is maybe out of our reach,” said Froggatt, who expects stiff competition from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s youth sides.

“Domestically we are gaining good experience in club events and junior opens, but this is a slightly different arena.

“It’s only their third event together as a team and it gives them the chance to see what they’re up against regionally. But most importantly it gives them competitive golf in a new and unfamiliar environment.”