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23 February 2024

All hail the Desert Swing

By Joy Chakravarty

What a stunning start we had to the Desert Swing of the European Tour. At the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, no one expected a hailstorm to turn the National course's fairways and greens into a white carpet, nor did they expect desert specialist Henrik Stenson to miss the cut.

There were other cases of expect the unexpected, but the hailstorm easily topped that list.

Not many people were there at the course that early on a Thursday morning, but those who were, would have been witness to a spectacle. I drove down from Dubai and faced several thundershowers on my way to the golf course, but the weather in Abu Dhabi, at least when I reached there, was just perfect for golf.

Moments after the last of the morning groups teed off, the heavens opened. The sound of the hail falling on the fibreglass roof of the media centre was so loud, I honestly thought there had been an explosion. Within minutes, you would have been forgiven for mistaking the Abu Dhabi Golf Club for Crans Montana in winter.

I must add here that the course maintenance staff, led by Superintendent Andrew Whittaker, did a fabulous job to restrict the suspension of play to just two hours. Fifteen minutes into the storm, the first and second fairways were so slushed, it seemed impossible that play would restart for at least four or five hours.

Like the weather, equally bizarre was the way Stenson crashed out of the championship. Given his outstanding record in the region – he finished second twice in three years – and his recent form which saw him win the World Cup and Sun City, he was the pre-tournament favourite.

And even though Stenson would be the first to admit he wasn't playing his best, the out-of-the-blue, two-stroke penalty on the opening day did not help at all. On the 16th, Stenson tried to cut the corner of the dog-leg. He reached the spot for his second shot and found his Srixon Z-series No1 ball lying in deep rough. It was only on reaching the green that he saw the ball wasn't his: it did not have the line he draws as a marker. He called the foul and went back to the spot only to find his ball lying less than five yards away.

You cannot blame Stenson. Only a select few Tour players use such balls, which haven't been released as yet. The probability of finding that same brand, same model, same number ball within five yards was as good as a hail-covered golf course in the middle of a desert. You wouldn't expect it, but it happened.

- Joy Chakravarty is Editor of Middle East Golfer