01 Apr 2020

Ahmed Skaik’s path to become UAE’s No.1

By Scott Grayston

Being your country’s best player is a dream for any sportsman, but for Ahmad Skaik it’s simply one of many milestones he hopes to achieve in a glittering career. The 22 year old Emirati has been in scintillating form this season with four victories to his name, as well as making his European Tour debut in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after winning a play-off against Saif Thabet in the Emirati section of the Abu Dhabi Amateur Championship to qualify.

“Getting to play In my first European Tour event in Abu Dhabi is the best thing to ever happen to me,” says Ahmad Skaik, as he reflects on his breakthrough season. “I think I let the occasion get to me unfortunately, and I was sick in the week leading up to it, so it’s frustrating that I didn’t perform better (he finished 25 over par) but, hopefully, next time I’ll be better prepared and ready. I was so nervous on the first few holes that the club looked closed when I was trying to grip it. It was a great experience, though, and I was so happy to be part of what is a fabulous event.”

Skaik has since reacted to this frustrating performance by hiring Steven Thomas as a mental coach to help him calm his nerves when playing in prestigious tournaments and it seems to be paying dividends.

Shortly after the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, he triumphed in the UAE Presidents Cup to gain the accolade as the top Emirati golfer.

“The last two years I choked on the final few holes and made a big number in the UAE Presidents Cup, but this year I birdied the 16th and 17th to get a two-shot lead on Khalid Yousef. This was enough to win by two shots after making a par on the last.

“Khalid was one of my role models growing up, so it was great to beat him and win this event. It’s a good feeling (being UAE No.1) but I want to achieve more than that.”


MIX IT WITH THE BEST

Merely being the best in the country isn’t Skaik’s desire. He aims to mix it with the best there is and wants to create a unique pathway for himself to climb to the top echelons of the game. “I think the Arabs have a mentality where they believe the Europeans are much better than us, but I want to prove that you can come from Arabia and work your way to the top.”

Skaik has proved his quality in recent months when competing against the likes of 16 year old hotshots Josh Hill and Toby Bishop to show just how far his game has come and how much the level has improved in the Middle East. “Khalid told me they used to win with a 10-over par score in the EGF events but now if you shoot that kind of score you’re teeing off first! That proves how far our game has come. It’s crazy how much the scoring has improved.

“Two years ago I was shooting 2-under but Josh Hill was shooting 5 or 6-under. In the past, my scores could have won a few events but now it keeps coming up short. Having said that, it makes it even sweeter to beat him at the Trump Men’s Open– especially as that is Toby’s home club.”

Skaik

The victory at the Trump International Golf Club, Dubai was huge for Skaik’s confidence as he shot 5-under over two days and then came out on top in a thrilling play-off against Bishop, with Hill finishing a shot further back in third. “I feel comfortable shooting low scores these days, whereas before when I would get to 2-or 3-under and panic a bit, mess it up and fall back to level par,” admits Skaik. “Now I feel confident enough to keep going and make more birdies.

“This confidence has helped me win four events this season on the EGF Order of Merit and this one was very satisfying against such a strong field.”

The young UAE star is currently on an ‘International Studies’ course at the American University in Dubai but, prior to the nationwide shutdown, could often be found training at the Claude Harmon Performance Academy at the Els Club – which is also the same venue at which Bishop, Hill and Arjun Gupta train. “Coming here to the Claude Harmon Performance Academy is the best thing I’ve done,” he says. “Getting to use the facilities they have makes my practice far more beneficial. Myself, Josh Hill, Arjun Gupta and Toby Bishop all train there so you can learn from these talented guys and their great coaches.

“When I was growing up I was playing with beginners but you definitely grow much quicker as a golfer if you’re playing with better players than yourself.”

Skaik hired Joe Marshall to be his coach 18 months years ago at the CHPA and they’ve developed an outstanding partnership to help the Emirati become a winning machine.

“I didn’t have a coach for two years but looked on the website and Joe’s name was the first that popped up, so I met him and the rest is history,” he smiles.

“The results have shown that we work well together. Recently we changed my putting technique after a poor putting performance in Abu Dhabi and that’s working much better.

“We’ve won two tournaments using this new technique and was runner-up at the Saadiyat Men’s Open, so I think we’re on the right track.”

It was the ‘Welsh Golfer’ Bishop who stole the headlines at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, shooting a course record-breaking 62 en-route to victory, but Skaik was putting pressure on him throughout, achieving a career-best score. “At Saadiyat I produced my tournament lowest score at 6-under, although that didn’t look that impressive when Toby broke the course-record. I started with four birdies so I thought I’d put on the pressure with that but his score was crazy!

“Toby and I exchanged messages on Instagram about me beating him in a play-off but he got the upper hand that weekend!”

Skaik, who has been named Vice Captain for this year’s Dubai Golf Trophy, still has business to do on the EGF Order of Merit sitting in second place to Dan Byrne with two events remaining. In two years he will have finished his studies and will then have more free time to concentrate on his golf career with a professional ambition in his sights.

“After University, I will start to compete on the MENA Tour and build my way up,” he says. “Obviously, I want to be the best so let’s see what happens.” If he carries on improving – both mentally and physically – in this manner, Skaik has the potential to be the first Emirati to make a truly global impact in the game.


COACH JOE MARSHALL ON AHMAD’S POTENTIAL

“Ahmad’s not scared about shooting in the red now. He’s kicked on and he’s seeing the results recently. He’s proved to himself that he can shoot scores like 5 or 6-under and this has certainly helped his confidence. He aims to catch Dan Byrne on the Order of Merit in the last couple events of the season then we will set some new goals after that. Ahmad’s got the skills and the ability to try and push himself. Once his University work settles down and he sets up a good plan, he’s got the potential to drive forward in the sport.”

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