Connor Syme is starting his 2018 campaign locking horns with Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood and Pat Perez on the golf course - and enjoying being around pop star Niall Horan off it.
The 22-year-old Fifer is among seven Scots teeing up in the $3 million Omega Dubai Desert Classic, having secured a coveted invitation for the event through Modest! Golf, his management company.
That was set up by golf-mad Horan and, as part of a deal that saw the One Direction member sign up to play with close friend McIlroy in the pro-am, both Syme and fellow rookie pro Jack Singh Brar secured spots in this week’s star-studded field.
It’s a fantastic opportunity for Syme, who has been out in Dubai since the end of last week getting himself ready to test himself in an event that is comparable in strength to the preceding Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on the European Tour.
“It’s awesome to be at such a strong event,” said the Drumoig man, speaking on the practice putting green at Emirates Golf Club, where he tees off at 12.30pm local time on Thursday in the first round in the company of Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai and Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera.
“It feels like a major event and I am really excited to get going. This venue is amazing. I’ve had a few opportunities to play, like The Open, and you get a feel for it.
“But I don’t think every week (on the Tour) is like this. It’s incredible. You look at the set-up at the 18th there, it looks permanent, but it’s only temporary. It’s cool. All the top guys are here, so obviously it’s a good test.”
Syme spent some time at the Trump Course in Dubai after escaping snowy Scotland last week before starting to get himself acquainted with the Majlis Course, this week’s venue and scene of victories in this event for Colin Montgomerie (1996) and Stephen Gallacher (2013 and 2014).
“This course is really challenging off the tee,” added Syme. “If you can get your ball in play, there are plenty opportunities. But. if you miss the fairway, there are problems. You need to be on your toes.”
After turning professional following last year’s Walker Cup, the young Scot got his new career off to a flying start with top-15 finishes in both the Portugal Masters and the Dunhill Links Championship.
He then secured his European Tour card by finishing joint-11th in the Qualifying School in Spain and is now determined to make the most of this welcome opportunity ahead of upcoming tests in Australia, Qatar and, possibly, Oman.
“It was good to get some time off after the Joburg Open (in December) because things changed throughout last year and it ended up being a much longer season than I planned,” he admitted Syme, who has Edinburgh man Tim Poyser caddying for him.
“It was good to recharge the batteries and prep a little bit before my first tournament of the year. I would have liked to play the SA Open, but I wasn’t quite ready to start with a couple of things with my body. But I feel good now and ready to go.”.
After completing his preparations for the main event, Syme watched Horan, who had Poyser on his bag, for a bit in his pro-am date with McIlroy and admits he’s soaking up the off-course experiences here as much as those on it.
“Niall is preparing for his tour later this year, but he’s out here to support the event, and he’s going to be out here until Sunday supporting us,” said Syme. “He was out walking around with us earlier in the week, and we had a Modest! do last night. We were all together and it’s a real family situation.”
Joining Syme in the event’s 29th staging are Montgomerie, Gallacher, Scott Jamieson, Richie, David Drysdale and Marc Warren. Unless there are two late withdrawals, Paul Lawrie will miss out in this tournament for just the second time since 1992 after being left on the reserve list.
* Turkish Airlines flies 5 times a week from Edinburgh to Dubai via Istanbul starting from £350 including taxes and golf clubs fly for free in addition to a 40kg baggage allowance as standard (50kg in business). Book turkishairlines.com or 0844 800 6666