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Get a grip, Ali!

ACE golfer Ali Saleh's tournament-winning prowess has astonished coaches and seasoned instructors because of his unique grip.

He started playing by whacking lost balls in Awali with a metal bar after spending hours watching British oil workers playing on their days off on the first golf course in the Middle East.

He said: "Before I started playing I used to go down to Awali Golf Club with my friends where these British guys would play. We would watch and sometimes collect their lost balls and they would give us whatever small change they had in exchange.

"Eventually, I got so used to watching the sport I picked up a metal bar and started hitting a few balls. My friends and I didn't have clubs back then; we had metal bars and then when I joined the Bahrain National Golf Club at 14 I was given one to play with. That was a happy day!"

Although his list of triumphs makes him a feared opponent on the region's courses, his style of play has left many baffled and asking how it is even possible.

Unlike most golfers, Ali grips the club with the left hand placed slightly below the right hand and then, to add to the confusion, swings from his right side.

Ali said: "I know my grip is wrong but I'm comfortable with it. I've tried changing it myself but I feel so weak when I do.

"People often wonder how I play with such an unusual grip. The golf grip is usually the right hand at the front with the left hand gripping behind it.

"Players often questioned how I can be so accurate playing in such a fashion but that is how I got used to playing the game.

"I taught myself how to play when I was a child. So, at 47 it's a bit late to change now. If it works for me, then why not carry on?

"Some instructors have tried to change me but I just couldn't feel comfortable. Even one of my buddies told me recently, 'you are all grown up now, it's time to use the right grip' and I said, 'no, this is how I play'.

"I can't change. And I've still managed to win 23 or 24 tournaments!"

Ali has showcased this unconventional grip at home and abroad, competing in Oman, Morocco, Lebanon, Egypt and the UAE.

It all started at the age of 12 when Ali and his friends would watch in awe and collect lost balls for expat golfers playing on the oldest golf course in the Middle East, namely the sand course at Awali Golf Club (AGC).

He said: "I know others played football but I just loved golf. I still love it because it is such a solo effort, unlike team sports like football where you have to depend on all the other players on your side. In golf you can only depend on yourself. You have one ball and you're in control of it. It might fall in the water or the bunker; it's up to you to take hold of your game."

Nowadays, the 47-year-old former Bahrain Defence Force employee from East Riffa, spends his days perfecting his game at different golf courses around the kingdom as well as preparing to compete in local and international tournaments with the Bahrain senior men's national team.

Recently, Ali and his teammates Nasser Yacoob Saleh, Hamad Mubarak Al Afnan and Sultan Abdulla Sultan were crowned the champions of the 17th GCC Championship played in Oman.

They defeated Qatari rivals with a combined total of 677, but Ali won more than just that as his sensational swing also secured him a bronze in the individual ranking.

Ali has continued to impress and amaze with his prolific golfing success. He was the Royal Golf Club's 2012 Club Champion and after conquering last month's Euro Motors BMW Monthly Medal competition will be progressing onto the Euro Motors BMW Grand Final in December.

How he achieves success even baffles the best. Ben Hogan, an American professional golfer generally considered one of the greatest players in the history of the game stated in his book The Grip that 'golf begins with a good grip'. This admonition has been echoed by virtually all golf instructors who uniformly emphasise the importance of a good grip as being the fundamental keystone of a good golf swing.

But GulfWeekly columnist Matt Chalmers, a popular instructor and AGC's PGA professional, said: "The text books suggest that there is an orthodox way to hold the golf club but in real terms, the beauty of golf is that there is more than one way to do it. Some successful golfers hold the club unconventionally.

"At the end of the day, it's all about getting the club face square to the target when hitting the ball. If Ali is talented enough to hold the club unconventionally and still manage to do it then it is clear he is one talented individual."

Left-handed American Bubba Watson, the 2012 Masters Champion, is amongst the more famous players who doesn't follow convention. According to the Houston Chronicle, Bubba got his first set of clubs when he was seven and the closest to formal golf instruction came from his hacker of a father, Gary.

He taught Bubba to swing hard, find the ball, and hit it again hard. Other characteristics used to identify Bubba's style include a 'strong grip and Frankenstein of a swing'.

And another star with an exceptional swing was 'big screen' favourite Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore, a hockey player who gave golf a run.

Meanwhile, the AGC is making preparations to host a 10-day Festival of Golf from March 28 to April 6 as part of its 75th anniversary celebrations with the 50th Bahrain Open Golf Championship and the 25th Bahrain Ladies Open Golf Championship.

The Royal Golf Club's 2012 Club Champion, Ali Saleh, continued his winning ways this year in the recent EuroMotors BMW Monthly Medal competition with a stunning three under par 69.

"Ali Saleh is a superb golfer with an unconventional grip and to score three under is a great achievement," said John Wilson, the Royal Golf Club's Golf Events & Sales Manager.

Above, Saleh, centre, with 2012 Royal Golf Club Captains Danni Sheppard and Ebrahim Esbai.

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Date:Mar 6, 2013
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