07 Dec 2021

Alayna Rafique – Dubai teen is living the golfers dream

Alayna Rafique is already shooting under par and has a clubhead speed close to 110mph. She’s a star in the making and even got to show off her skills to one of the world’s best players, Rory McIlroy, last month.

We caught up with the talented teenager and her father, Kash, at Jumeirah Golf Estates where she and her brother Zak are part of the impressive Peter Cowen Academy.

Worldwide Golf: You had the opportunity to play a practice round with Rory McIlroy, how did this happen?
Alanya Rafique: My brother and I got a last-minute tee time a couple of months ago on the Fire course and these two men joined us who were impressed with our playing ability. My parents exchanged numbers after the round, as one was a sponsor of the DP World event and he promised me a round with Rory! I was counting down the days until the DP World Tour Championship and hoping this dream would come true and I couldn’t believe it when my invite arrived. It was a double wammy for our family that day, as Zak also got an invite to play with Paul Casey. We both look back at the photos from the pro-am to realise it was actually reality and not a dream! It was a crazy experience.

WWG: What impressed you the most about Rory and did he give you any tips?
AR: His ability with the driver is incredible. He doesn’t move his hips at all and the speed he is able to generate is phenomenal which is something I’d love to have in my swing. Rory gave me some putting tips and how I can improve my swing setup, so that was really cool.

WWG: Tell us about your incredible finish to the round with Rory…
AR: We finished on the ninth hole in the shotgun event on the Earth course and it was a Long Drive Challenge but I just missed the fairway on the par 4. However, I hit my hybrid over the green and managed to get ‘up and down’ for par. It was an amazing feeling to be able to rescue a par in front of Rory with everyone watching.

WWG: How did you first get into the game?
AR: I originally played tennis and aspired to be a professional, I wanted to be the next Venus Williams. We had moved from the UK to Dubai and my brother Zak has just go into playing golf. One day I went around Arabian Ranches with him and I hit a couple of balls. I really enjoyed it and then got noticed by one of the teaching professionals there and I soon forgot all about tennis. I’ve now joined Peter Cowen Academy at Jumeirah Golf Estates and I’m practicing all the time up there, plus playing at Emirates Golf Club. I’m very fortunate to have these opportunities, which makes me even more focused on practicing and playing well.

WWG: Is it true that you often challenge yourself and play off the Men’s tees at courses in Dubai?
AR: Yes I sometimes do because I can outdrive my brother and he says it’s because I play off the ladies tees so I try and prove a point and play off the same tees as him! Every summer I play with the England Girls team and they play from the back tees so I think it’s a great learning curve getting used to these sorts of distances in the UAE.

WWG: You’re only 13 but you’ve already managed to break par. When did this happen?
AR: On the Fire course two summers ago, my brother and I were pretty much playing every single day and that’s when I broke par. Since then it’s happened on a much more regular basis. Now when I go on the course my aim is to shoot under par and get birdies so my confidence and ability keep growing in the sport. Zak is also pushing me as his putting is better than mine, so I can’t let my guard down on the greens.

WWG: We know you’re only young, but have you made plans for when you finish school?
AR:  Well GCSEs and A-levels are stressful so I’d love to be able to skip them! My dream would be to go to America and get a golf scholarship.

WWG: Are your friends at school aware of your golfing ability?
AR:  They all call me ‘The next Tiger’ at school! Some of my friends challenged me to a round and believed they could beat me. I could have been hard on them and taken them on over nine holes on the Majlis but that would have been unfair. The challenge was only for fun so what better way to settle things than going to Topgolf. We had a brilliant time and even though I won many of those friends enjoyed it so much they are getting into golf.

 

WWG: Who’s your favourite golfer?
AR: Tiger Woods has inspired me the most ever since I was a young age. He’s done so much for the game and everyone can relate to him even if they aren’t golf fans. He’s had lots of ups and downs in his career but he’s kept going and is a role model for all golfers. My favourite female golfer is Lydia Ko because she has a great attitude towards the game and is an incredible golfer. I hope she comes to Dubai soon to compete.

WWG: Are there any other sports stars you would like to meet and learn from?
AR: Being from the North of England and a Manchester United fan, it would have to be Marcus Rashford. He has done so much on and off the pitch and a real inspiration. He is only young as well, which makes all his achievements even better.


PROUD PARENTS

 

Kash Rafique, Alayna’s father, explains how he and his wife Shanna are encouraging their children to make the most of golf, as it develops life skills that will benefit their future.

WWG: How did you get Alayna into golf?
Kash Rafique: Well originally it was Zak, my son, who is 11 months older than Alayna who picked up plastic clubs and started hitting the ball but as time progressed we realised that Alayna was also keen to play! There was a great rivalry and competition between the two of them. Alayna started playing at three years old and Zak started when he was two.

WWG: How did you grow that interest when you came to Dubai?
KR: We started off at Arabian Ranches Golf Club because there’s a short par 3 course there. Zak actually managed to get a birdie on there when he was just three years old! Their coaches were keen to develop his skills and Alayna didn’t want to be left, out so she got involved too.

WWG: Both of your children played in the DP World Tour Championship Pro-AM with Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey. That’s got to be a first and how did this come to fruition?
KR: Actually, it was very opportunistic! The kids are members of Emirates Golf Club and one evening they were playing with Pawan Munjal the CEO Hero Motocorp who is one of Tour’s main sponsors. He was vastly impressed and asked us to see if we would accept an invitation to play in the Pro-AM. I thought it was just a passing remark and he wasn’t serious at first but then a week later I received a Whatsapp from him and then I realised it was genuine.

WWG: Do you think it’s important, as a parent, to not let your kids get too ahead of themselves in the sport?
KR: Yes it’s pivotal that the kids don’t get overly-enthusiastic and ahead of themselves when they are such a young age. We are just regular parents and are trying to give our children the best opportunities as possible, without pushing them to do anything they don’t want to do. I come from a very sporty background myself so I love that my kids are competitive and are both making friends and learning life skills from a brilliant sports such as golf. I’m thrilled and delighted with how the children are doing and I think the experiences they are having will certainly benefit them in the future.


QUICKFIRE

What is the hardest course you have played in the UAE?
AR: Yas Links in Abu Dhabi. The greens are so fast and it’s hard to get the ball close to pins. The ball just rolls for miles

What is the hardest hole you have played in the UAE?
AR:Definitely the 18th at the Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates. The Wadi that runs through the fairway all the way to the green and it is constantly on your mind.

What is your favourite hole in the UAE?
AR:The 18th on the Earth course. Even though I find it the hardest it is also one of the reasons I like it so much.

 

Favourite band?
AR: This is easy. One Direction!

Favourite restaurant?
AR: Black Tap in Dubai, their shakes are amazing!

Last film you watched?
AR:: The Hunger Games

Favourite subject at School?
AR: Without doubt, P.E!

Favourite holiday destination?
AR: Cape Town, South Africa.

 

 

 

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