Muscat: On a tricky Al-Mouj Golf Club course in the opening round of the $2 million International Series Oman, Saudi Arabia’s Faisal Salhab got off the mark with a solid 1-under par 71 round.
There were two annoying bogeys – one of them a three-putt on the par-3 eighth green that tested everyone in the field with its severity – but Salhab also hit 15 out of 18 greens in regulation and missed only two fairways all day.
Saud Al-Sharif and Othman Almulla, the other two Saudi professionals in the field, had impressive starts too.
Al-Sharif was 1-under par for his round through 15 holes, before a double bogey on the seventh hole pushed him to 1-over par. Almulla started with three bogeys in his first four holes, but came back to make 12 straight pars before an unfortunate triple bogey on the difficult 16th hole saw him finish at 6-over par.
After signing his card, Salhab, 27, flashing his trademark wide smile, predicted that 2024 would be a year of change for Saudi professional golfers.
He said: “It’s so good to see that the things I’ve been working hard for in the offseason with my coach (Jamie McConnell), with other members of the team like my psychologist (Andrea Debellis), Saudi Golf, and the other pros, is showing early results.
“This was a good start, but hopefully, a lot more to come this year. I honestly think this could be a breakthrough year for us Saudi professional golfers. We have been given this incredible opportunity to play the International Series events and on the Asian Tour, and we are on the verge of showing positive results. We have all had good spells and we only need to string it together for a longer period.
“The mentality is back to trying to win — trying to do well. We do not want to try making cuts anymore. These last couple of years have shown us that we have the game. I’ve seen it playing against these guys. They’re excellent players. But we’re very good as well, and we need to believe that more.
“We’re getting that mentality this year of not having any fear — become a kid again. We’ve been dreaming all our lives of playing with these guys. Now that we are here, why are we being timid? It’s completely wrong.
“So, this is a year of what can we do, rather than putting ceilings on ourselves,” Salhab added.
That fearlessness was very evident during Salhab’s round, when he bounced back with a birdie on the 17th hole after making a couple of unforced errors to wind up with a bogey on the previous hole.
He said: “I hit a good drive and then a 3-wood to about 40 yards. The chip went over the green, and then I did not have a great return chip before my par putt from 10-12 feet lipped out.
“But that’s where I think I showed good attitude and some of the talks that I had with Andrea paid off. I spoke to my caddie and told him, ‘let’s forget about the bogey. We’re good enough to birdie any hole here.’ I just hit a couple of good shots after that and made a 15-foot birdie putt.”
Salhab has had better rounds as a professional – his best was a 4-under par 68 in Indonesia last year. But he was pleased with his 71 in Muscat, especially because Al-Mouj was decidedly playing tougher.
“Hundred percent this was better. Even though the scorecard would say the round in Indonesia was better by three shots.
“This was solid. I kept hitting good shots and finding fairways and I stuck to my processes. I was happy with how I thought on the golf course and how I kept pushing myself.
“I just need to keep doing this. I need to keep working hard and believe in myself,” Salhab added.