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January 28, 2020

Othman Al Mulla

Faisal Salhab.

Saud Al Sharif

King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia

TOM BENBOW: Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to welcome in our three Saudi players in this week. We'll go with Othman Al Mulla to start with. He's the first Saudi professional. He has experience playing this event and other European Tour events. How do you feel as the first person to make this step into this event and the professional game?

OTHMAN AL MULLA: It's been my dream since I started playing golf 18 years ago, to play professional and to represent the Kingdom. It's taken a long time, representing Saudi Arabia around the world on the amateur team with my national teammates. It's been an unbelievable journey, and just to start now, I've taken the first couple of steps but I'm 100 percent confident that the other guys on the national team will join me very, very soon. We've been given an unbelievable opportunity by Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation to pursue this dream of cementing ourselves in the regional golf game and hopefully in the world some day.

TOM BENBOW: Are you happy to have a bit of friendly competition out here pushing your game forward?

OTHMAN AL MULLA: The game of golf can be a very lonely game at times and some of the best days of my life was being on the team with them and traveling around the world and competing as a team, although we had an individual aspect to it. There's 156 players week-in, week-out, and if there's three, four, five more Saudi players, it would make me nothing but proud to compete.

I mean, the big thing this year has been training and also getting the opportunity to surround myself with amazing golfers, and the two guys here are amazing golfers. I think finally we've been given a stage to learn and experience these world-class players and this will do all of our games a world of good. I have no doubt that they will be joining me very soon and we'll be making a very, very good name for ourselves and for the Kingdom hopefully.

TOM BENBOW: Saud, you've played last year, so you have a bit of experience here, too. But tell us about your morning today. You managed to play a couple holes with Shane Lowry; is that right?


TOM BENBOW: What did you learn from that experience?

SAUD AL SHARIF: First of all, like to thank the Sports Authority for making this possible. The morning was actually pretty fun. Shane is a great guy to play with, and I had a lot of fun with him. I feel like I have the game to make it up there with those guys. It's just a matter of time for me. Yeah, I can't wait for the weekend. I'm very excited.

TOM BENBOW: Do you notice any sort of difference in his game? He's obviously Open Champion. You feel like you're hitting it a bit like these pros, but is there a slight difference somewhere. What did you notice?

SAUD AL SHARIF: It's more of an experience for him. He's been out there I would say 15 years on Tour. Once you get to that stage where you feel like you've been out there long enough to compete and trust your game, it's just a lot of time for me I think.

TOM BENBOW: Faisal, this is your debut here, how are you taking all of this in, this experience here in the press room, practicing alongside world No. 1 and whatnot?

FAISAL SALHAB: It's extremely exciting, simple as that. Just making my debut in such a strongly packed field in the Saudi International, it's only the second time, but you can see the quality in the people.

The people playing, like he said, he played with Shane Lowry in the morning, The Open Champion. We have Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, a few names of the best of our sport right now. Not only in the Middle East or Europe, but the world's best players are right here. It's extremely exciting and we can't wait to play on the weekend and see what we can do.

TOM BENBOW: Mixture of excitement or nerves?

FAISAL SALHAB: If you are nervous, that means you really care. It's a good thing. I'm excited and nervous, but it's good nervous.

Q. To be the first at anything, but to become the first professional from Saudi Arabia, can you talk about some of the challenges you've faced in a country where this wasn't the main sport? How difficult was it for you to develop and does that give you extra pride?
OTHMAN AL MULLA: It's all timing. Golf is a new sport in the Kingdom, and when I started playing golf what I was 14, 15, there were only two golf courses. I started playing golf on the sand golf course, and obviously I was very, very lucky to be one of the youngest guys on the national team a year after start playing golf because it was a sport in its infancy.

And even when I used to talk about it when I was 17, 18, 19, playing collegiate golf in America, about wanting to be the first professional golfer from Saudi Arabia was a pipedream. A lot of people, because the sport is so new, we're like, it's going to be very, very difficult and I knew that's the path I'm choosing to take.

I'm very, very lucky to be give then opportunity last year with His Excellency, when they talked to me about their ambitions and what they want to achieve in the sport of golf and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and for them wanting me to be a small piece of that as a professional golfer, it was a proud moment and a realisation of something I've dreamt about.

This year, I guess you could say being thrown off the deep end and learning to swim as I go; I've been very lucky to play some European Tour events, obviously not a level that I aspire to yet. But getting to have these experiences and to learn from those experiences and to go play some MENA Tour events, a developmental tour in the region and travel around the world is phenomenal.

To be representing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is something we're all proud to do, and to be a professional golfer doing something I love is something anyone would love to do.

I'm learning as I go, and hopefully when the guys make their jump, there's a world of experience that they can take from my journey to kind of make up those steps that I had to take when I first turned professional.

Q. Just to follow up, could you describe the experience of playing in a sand golf course?
OTHMAN AL MULLA: Basically living in a country where water is a not readily available resource, grass golf courses as we know take a lot of water to become lush, such as this beautiful golf course that we have. I grew up in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia in Tehran and a sand golf course is basically, land of desert with lines that specify a fairway, and you take a six-inch astroturf matt that you might see in Scotland or England in the winter when they don't want to mess up the fairway.

So if you're in the fairway, you play your ball on the matt and you play from there, and then the flag is on something called the brown where it's a sand oil mixture and you just brush. Every time a group goes through, you brush; so it's smooth and they actually roll quite true.

It's quite an interesting experience, and it's a fun thing now looking back on those days playing sand golf. But it was a massive step for me to kind of go from there to where I am today, and it's been an unbelievable journey.

Q. You've got no sort of golfing hero in Saudi, so who have been your heros growing up?
FAISAL SALHAB: I was born 1996, so when I was growing up, it was Tiger Woods. So Tiger Woods, as basic as it is, you can't go wrong with Tiger.

Q. Could you all answer that question?
SAUD AL SHARIF: For me, Tiger is the reason why I started playing. When I was ten, I actually like basically started playing golf by watching videos and trying to see Tiger, what he does. I think he's had a big influence on me to pick up the game, and yeah, Tiger's basically why I started playing.

OTHMAN AL MULLA: When I started playing golf on the sand, close friend of mine, Curtis Clement (ph), who had grew up with me and playing golf in America, he was like, there's some big tournaments on TV, how about you come and watch. I remember watching one of the big tournaments was Tiger Woods and Ernie Els bad willing out at the Mercedes Championship, and to see two unbelievable golfers from different backgrounds competing in a way that I had never seen or felt before is unbelievable, and they are my two golfing heros.

To bring it full circle, I was super lucky to actually play golf with him. I was paired last year with Ernie Els the first two rounds of the tournament.

What Golf Saudi has given me individually is something that not very many people in the world get to appreciate, and I'm thankful for that.

Q. Obviously in addition to this event, there's a ladies event, a Ladies European Tour coming here in a few months' time. How long do you think it will take for a Saudi girl or lady to be playing on that level?
OTHMAN AL MULLA: So a new fact is we actually have a first ladies amateur team now. We've had ever had females represent the sport of golf in the Kingdom, and unbelievably we have five now and two of them are junior golfers.

So they are obviously taking steps that we first took when we first started playing the game of golf as the first Saudis kind of to represent on the world stage and we are so proud of them to kind of be brave. It's a very difficult thing to do something new, to do something that now your friends, your classmates, your colleagues will know what you're doing. We're so happy to see them beaming with joy, playing golf, the game that we love and has given us so much in our lives.

The sky is the limit for them. So I am so happy that the ladies are going to be gracing our fairways, some of the best lady golfers in the world are going to come and hopefully share their experiences with our junior golfers and our lady golfers to kind of hopefully start their dreams to kind of let them be proud of what the Kingdom has given them and these opportunities and to kind of say, hey, maybe one day that can be me.

Q. Is it fun to see the Saudi ladies take up golf? We have some old-fashioned folk at home who are reluctant to allow women to do what they do.
OTHMAN AL MULLA: It's a changing atmosphere. It's a changing atmosphere in the Kingdom. I think there is have very, very talented males and females in this country and they are very ambitious.

Our King and the Crown Prince have been kind of at the forefront of saying we want to provide an atmosphere where these people can shine, and we've been given every single opportunity to go out and be leaders in the industries that we wanted to be in, and as you can see, the ladies are coming gracing our fairways in a couple of weeks and the ladies have been representing in multiple sports.

We had some females playing in the Olympics, the last Olympics, and we're a very passionate and proud people, and hopefully that will come out through our sport.

As you have come and embraced our culture and kind of hopefully seep seen the hospitality that we like to share, you'll go back and share with your friends and family.

SAUD AL SHARIF: I believe The European Tour event in April, the ladies event, will have an impact on our ladies national team and hopefully that will send them on the right track and pick up the game and maybe take it more seriously. So I believe the impact that that tournament will have on the ladies national team will be amazing.

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