Khalid Hussain talks to Ahmed Baig and finds out that the 19-year-old has what it takes to shine in international golf
When Sir Nick Faldo saw Ahmed Baig at the sprawling Laguna Lang Co Golf Club in Danang, Vietnam, in March this year, the first thing he noticed about the 19-year-old was how well turned out he was for the awards ceremony. The golf legend was lavish in his praise on Ahmed as he commended the youngster on his golfing attire and the way he carried himself.
Sir Nick, one of the biggest names on the international golfing scene, would have been equally lavish in his praise had he witnessed Ahmed’s heroics on the golf course. Pakistan’s fastest rising youngster was in his element at the Laguna course as he swept to a title-winning triumph in the Under-21 event of the Faldo Series Asia Finals, the first player from his country to achieve this feat.
The victory in Vietnam was one of the many wins for Ahmed in recent months. Before that he ran roughshod over his rivals to cruise to a crushing win in the Pakistan Leg of the Faldo Series in Karachi in January. Recently, he won the Sindh Amateur crown at the Karachi Golf Club after getting a special invitation from Asad I.A Khan, President Sindh Golf Association (SGA), to play in the prestigious event.
But the biggest win of his career so far came in Doha in January this year when he claimed the Qatar Amateur Golf Championship, winning not just accolades and a glittering trophy but a prized invitation to feature in February’s Qatar Masters, a European Tour event.
With his big-hitting prowess and a flair for making birdies, the sky seems to be the limit for this Lahore youngster, who has emerged as the big hope for Pakistan golf.
However, despite his meteoric rise, the best thing about Ahmed is that his feet are firmly planted on the ground.
His association with golf began as a teenage caddy but thanks to his two older brothers, both of whom work as caddies in Lahore, Ahmed got the opportunity to exhibit his talents on the course.
It is surprising that Ahmed didn’t pick up golf at a very young age. It was only when he was around 15 when people around him began to notice that he had talent.
"It was my older brother Usman who told me to take up golf," Ahmed told me as we sat in the cozy environs of Asad I A Khan’s residence in Karachi.
Before that Ahmed had followed in his brothers’ footsteps but it seems he wasn’t destined to pull other players’ bags. In 2014 he played his first tournament and made an instant impression.
He played and won matches in several Punjab cities and played in Karachi for the first time in 2016 when he featured in the Chevron-DHA Open at DACGC. It turned out to be a memorable event for him as he had a hole-in-one and soon he was selected to represent Pakistan in Malaysia.
Apart from his brothers, the one man who has really supported Ahmed is Brig Bajwa.
"He (Brig Bajwa) has really supported me over the years in terms of coaching, guidance and any other assistance," he said.
As a youngster, Ahmed was in love with golf. He would even skip his exams to play in golf tournaments. His parents wanted him to pursue his studies but it was his brother Usman who decided that Ahmed’s future was in golf.
"My parents would think that I was in school but actually I would be playing in some golf tournament. It was Usman who helped me get away with it."
Since making his international debut in 2016, Ahmed has represented Pakistan in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, China, Iran and Qatar.
The soft-spoken Ahmed is quietly confident about his future in big-time golf. One of the chief reasons behind it is that he is a natural when it comes to hitting it long.
"My biggest strength is my distance. I can hit the ball long. It gives me an edge over others. But I have to work on my short game."
Ahmed has already established himself as Pakistan’s top-ranked amateur and now wants to turn professional.
"I have always wanted to take up golf as a profession," he said.
But it is on the advice of Asad I A Khan and several other well-wishers that Ahmed has shelved his plans to turn professional at least for the moment.
"I have told him (Ahmed) to continue playing as an amateur till the time he wins the National championship and is head and shoulders above the other amateurs," said Asad, who has represented Pakistan at the amateur and senior levels.
Ahmed believes that with proper support talented youngsters like him can excel at the international level.
"They should establish academies in Pakistan. Our players should be coached and trained at those academies. That is something missing from our golf as there is no proper system.
"The golf federation should send maximum number of youngsters abroad because you learn a lot from such exposure. Personally, I learnt a lot while participating in international events.
"The first time I went abroad (Malaysia), I was completely overawed but slowly I learned to give my best in international events.
"My aim is to win international laurels for Pakistan first at the amateur level and then in professional tournaments."