By Nick Totten, europeantour.com
Just moments after a gallant loss to a team of Qatar masters, Scottish footballer turned TV pundit Andy Gray gave europeantour.com the lowdown on his home course - Doha GC - ahead of the latest event on The European Tour's Race to Dubai.
Now based in Qatar alongside TV partner Richard Keys as part of a new sports channel, the former Everton and Scotland international was taking part in a challenge match against European Tour players Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer and Henrik Stenson.
The final two members of Gray’s team, Wales manager Chris Coleman and Scotland boss Gordon Strachan, rounded out a line up of football masters who took on their golfing counterparts in Doha, having seen America’s John Daly up close and personal as part of Wednesday’s Pro-Am.
Sadly there was nothing that the big hitting American could help them with when it came to chipping and kicking tennis balls onto Velcro targets, and the footballers subsequently fell to a disappointing loss.
When given the opportunity though, Gray couldn’t speak highly enough of this week’s venue ahead of the 17th staging of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, which gets under way on Wednesday morning.
“I loved it today! I’ve not played the course for a month or six weeks because they’ve been getting it ready for the tournament, and playing it today I think the rain that we’ve had – rather surprisingly in Doha – in the last month or so has softened up the fairways.
“John (Daly), who I was fortunate enough to play with today, said he’s never seen the fairways as soft as they are at the moment, but he’s never seen the greens as good as they are either. A bit of a double edged sword there, so I don’t think the guys are not going to be hitting it quite so far at Doha GC and it might take a lower score to win it because there is not much run on the golf ball.
“The greens are beautiful, the guys will have no excuses at all, and John was saying that he hopes the wind blows a bit as if it doesn’t it will be a putting contest, which he doesn’t like. He likes to be tested a bit more, so he hopes the wind blows the next few days. Not too much, but just a little."
Keep it in the short grass
“I’m not sure what the keys are this week, but speaking to John he thinks putting and the short game are key. The rough was tough, like in Abu Dhabi last week, they’ve had the rain here which has made it a little thicker, and John thinks it is as penal as he has seen here. So anyone who can keep it in the fairway, keep it on the short grass, and find the greens and putt well will win it. That goes without saying, but if you can pitch and putt round the greens then you’ll give yourself a chance."
Play the par fives well, but don’t forget the 16th
“For these guys the par fives are key, obviously, but it depends where they put the tees and they might move them up as some of the par fives they can’t reach, especially with the wind. The 16th is always a fantastic hole too, you can score anywhere from a two to a five on that hole depending on how they hit it off the tee, so that will be a massive hole. So I do think it will be the 16th and the par fives that will be massive this week."
The perfect place to play
“The conditions certainly are an improvement on back in the UK. To wake up this morning, we were off very early, 0720 this morning and I had a jumper on to start with but after two holes it was off and we didn’t see it again. The beautiful blue skies above us, the guys love it. It’s perfect for golf, with just a small breeze but nothing to trouble them. Perfect conditions."
“My handicap’s nine, I haven’t played a lot and didn’t start too well today, but I ended up playing really well. We scored well too, not sure how, but I managed to get it round and it was one of those golf days we like, I didn’t hit it very well but scored well.
“I think you could say we dovetailed today, to use that wonderful golfing term. Chris Coleman, Gordon Strachan, we all played our part throughout the 18 holes, and John (Daly) was as steady as a rock. He had seven birdies, six on the back nine, he was playing phenomenally when we finished. So if he is doing that then it gives us a chance.”
“I try to play when I can out here, the guys at the golf club have been great since we arrived here six months ago. I’m a golf nut, I love golf, so I like to get up here as much as possible, but it hasn’t been as much as I’d liked over the past six or seven weeks through Christmas and New Year. But I intend to be, over the next few months, up here a lot."