Ada, Mich. - Khaled Attieh was eliminated in the second round of match play at the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship on Wednesday, but not without first making history.
The 15-year-old native of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, became the first Arab to earn a spot in the national championship. How does a latecomer to the game arrive at -- perhaps the appropriately named -- Egypt Valley from a world away? As Attieh has proven, it all happens via a route paved by dedication and persistence.
Attieh came to the game only three years ago and has learned that the prerequisite for realizing golf dreams is a healthy craving for sacrifice. He’s the clubhouse leader when it comes to making up for lost ground. So far, he’s crossed borders, laid aside a
love for soccer and two years ago left the comforts of family life to move to Dubai because, frankly, there are more avenues to undertake the improvement process in a region where the game is growing.
Khaled Attieh became the first player from Saudi Arabia to compete in a USGA championship. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)
Today, Attieh spends two to three months out of the summer in Vancouver, British Columbia, to work with his teacher, Brett Saunders. All this because he tagged along for a few rounds with his father, Walie Attieh, the chairman and CEO of Attieh Group steel company, and got irrecoverably hooked on the game.
When he began taking lessons from Saunders in 2007, Attieh’s swing was riddled with faults. A 20-handicapper, teacher and pupil undertook the process of rebuilding, well, everything.
The first 12 months was spent improving his lifestyle – nutrition, fitness level and his work ethic, Saunders says. Basically, that took 12 months and then the last 12 months we’ve focused on improving his skill level.
It’s no accident that some semblance of success has come quickly for Attieh as his practice regimen is routinely more than a 40-hour-a-week undertaking when he’s not competing. During the academic year, Attieh goes to an American school, Dubai American Academy, and heads to the course about 20 minutes away right after classes are finished. In the summer, he works on his game from dusk until dawn.
Intertwined are a few moments of inspiration for Attieh, who has attended the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic, and once played a pre-tournament pro-am event with Sergio Garcia. Maybe me someday, just maybe, Attieh can’t help but ponder.
For the time being, Attieh says his aspiration is to keep getting better, but underneath that outward sheath of comfort lays the desire of a player with seemingly enormous ambitions. He began posting victories and high finishes in tournament play last summer and earned his way into the U.S. Junior Amateur for the first time through stroke-play qualifying at Gold Mountain Golf Club’s Olympic Course in Bremerton, Wash., shooting 2-over 146. Attieh earned a first round victory at the Junior Amateur before falling to Justin Thomas of Goshen, Ky., in the round of 32.
Lessons abound everywhere in the game these days for Attieh. Thomas, who scored a wire-to-wire 5 and 3 victory, reminded his opponent that work remains in order to realize his lofty goals.
Today was a quick lesson, Saunders says. Justin played great and showed him how good you have to be to compete up here. I think that now he’s just going to improve his skill level.
Attieh admits he takes a lot of positives from his first U.S. Junior Amateur appearance.
Now that I’ve been here and made match play, I know that I’m good enough to compete and play, he says. My goal this summer was first, make it to the U.S. Junior and then make match play. Hopefully, I’ll get better and make it further.
Attieh and his instructor can only look back at what’s been an arduous, but intensely enjoyable climb in the toughest of all games and laugh a little. After scoring a 1-up victory in his first-round match against Branson Davis of McKinney, Texas, Attieh took stock of the process, reminisced for a moment and couldn’t resist asking his coach a direct question, likely already knowing the answer.
The first time we were hitting balls on the range, Attieh inquired to his coach on Wednesday evening, would you have imagined me making match play, the second round of match play, at the U.S. Junior?
Saunders didn’t blink.
Not a chance, he said.
The response signaled a refreshing conformation of sorts.
It’s a positive thing, Attieh says. It makes me want to practice and get better every year.
There are plenty of reasons for hope in the future.
Andrew Blair is the communications director for the Virginia State Golf Association. He’s contributing articles at this week's U.S. Junior Amateur for the USGA.