World No. 11 Sergio Garcia and his two young Team Qatar partners emerged victorious in the inaugural nine-hole Commercial Bank Challenge Match, which featured three of the world’s top golfers and six Qatari teenagers competing in a fun team event ahead of this week’s US$2.5 million Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
World No. 3 Henrik Stenson, who topped the 2013 Race to Dubai, and World No. 13 Jason Dufner, the reigning PGA Championship winner, also captained teams in the nine-man event at Doha Golf Club, with each team featuring one pro and two young amateurs.
Garcia’s group was the last to tee off and after finishing on the ninth green, the Spaniard was delighted to learn that his team won the Texas Scramble event with a score of five-under 67. Garcia was impressed with his young teammates for the day – Sami Al Qush, 15, and Abdulrahman Al Naimi, 13.
“It was very good. I thought they played very nicely – very impressive. They hit the ball quite well and had a good attitude. I think they had a good time and enjoyed it,” said Garcia, a 10-time European Tour winner and six-time Ryder Cup participant.
“He made the most putts for birdie,” added the Spaniard, pointing at Al Naimi.
The 15-year-old Al Qush, who briefly spoke Spanish to Garcia on the first tee, said it was a thrill to play nine holes with one of the world’s famous players.
“It has been a great honour to play with Sergio Garcia, one of the top pros in the world. I really enjoyed playing with him. He gave me some tips and some facts about golf, gave me some advice about my swing and about the short game, how to do chip and run. I did really benefit and it’s going to help me in the future. I hope that I’ll be better than him,” smiled the confident teenager, who explained his brief Spanish exchange with Garcia.
“I said ‘Hola, como estas?’ to him on the first tee, which means, ‘Hello, how are you?’ He replied in Spanish, but I didn’t understand!”
Garcia clearly inspired a competitive attitude in his teammates, with the quiet Al Naimi, the youngest member of the winning team, also bidding to better the livewire Spaniard in the future.
“It was a great experience to play with Sergio Garcia and to copy his swing. I’ve seen him on TV so it was amazing to play with him. I want to try to beat him in the future,” Al Naimi said. “All of us enjoyed ourselves and everyone was taking photos with the pros.”
Dufner, who is playing his second successive Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, believes the Challenge Match offered an inspirational experience for the six youngsters andpaid tribute to playing partners Faisal Mir, 16, and towering 15-year-old Abdulla Khamis.
“My partners did great – they carried me. I think I only had to putt once, which is nice for me. I hit some good shots for them and we had a good time,” said Dufner, who won his first major at the PGA Championship last August.
“I think as pros, we love doing these types of things. At some point in our golfing career, we were where these kids are. When I was their age, I know I was dying to be out there playing with the best players in the world. It’s a neat experience for them and a neat experience for us.
“I like the fact The European Tour hits all these different parts of Asia, the Middle East, South Africa and so on, helping to expand the game of golf and inspiring a lot of juniors to play.”
Stenson, who will play his 14th successive Commercial Bank Qatar Masters this week, was also full of praise for his teenage teammates, Saoud Al Muhanadi and Arnav Jain.
“You can see the kids love the game of golf and are keen to practise. I’m sure we’ll see them in the years to come in Doha and hopefully we can be a little bit of an inspiration that will push them to keep on practising and keep on learning more. When I was a kid, I watched Mats Lanner in Sweden, so I know it means a lot when you’re young to see some of the pros in action,” said Stenson, who won both the Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup last year.
“I told these guys that I only started when I was 11. They’re 12 and 14 so they’ve got a bit of a head start on me. I just told them to keep on practising and keep on playing, but they’re going to develop in due time, so now it’s about enjoying it.”
As well as Stenson, Garcia and Dufner, four-time major winner Ernie Els and former World No. 1s Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer are among the field at the 17th edition of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.