Once the dense morning fog had lifted, it was easy to pick out Tom Buchanan on the range at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. On his 38th birthday, the former Duddingston assistant professional wore a smile as wide as the carriageways in the UAE as he prepared for the biggest week in his golfing career.
Thanks to winning a local qualifier, Buchanan is in the same field as the likes of Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It’s an exciting but daunting opportunity for the Stranraer man. “I’ve been coming to this event for six years as a spectator and have enjoyed sitting on the terrace on a Sunday having a beer,” Buchanan, who left Duddingston just under six years ago to take up a post as golf operations supervisor at Al Ain Golf Club and is now the head professional, told The Scotsman. “Now I’m pegging it up on Thursday morning (in the company of England’s Paul Waring and Ricardo Gouevia of Portugal). It’s what we all dream about as professional golfers...that one chance to mix it up with the big boys and the big boys are definitely here this week.”
For Buchanan, making the cut is the goal and the former East of Scotland Alliance champion is hoping some advice offered by Stephen Gallacher during a nine-hole practice round earlier in the week can be helpful in that respect. “That was great as I picked his brains and got a feel for being around these world-class players, which is a bit of a step up from a PGA medal out here,” admitted Buchanan, pictured. “It’s a case of trying to control everything and treating it as a PGA medal. I think that’s the hardest bit.
“But what’s the worst thing that can happen to me this week? Missing the cut, that’s it. I’ve made it here and playing in an event that a lot of very good players can’t even get in.
“Stevie said that I shouldn’t push things as you don’t have to take everything on. The greens are so good that you can hit it in the middle of the greens and hole putts. He also said that I should be looking at laying up short of certain bunkers at some of the par 5s instead of going for the green.
“He was really good. He said the same as a couple of others boys, that I should just go out and play my own game and not worry about anyone or anything else. If I can do that, then hopefully my game is good enough to make the cut.”
Buchanan is playing a course he knows well, though it is set up a lot harder for this week’s European Tour event. “This is a proper golf course,” he added. “It’s a course where if you drive it well you can really get it going. The rough is juicy and the course is tighter than I’ve seen it in the six years I’ve been here. If you drive it well, you have a chance to score.
“For me, it’s about trying to keep it play and make as few mistakes as possible. I’m probably going to have to play 33 holes of my golf to make the cut. If I do that, then great. If not, it will still be an unbelievable experience.”
Buchanan will have some familiar faces, including his former boss Alastair McLean, willing him to do well. “Alastair is flying out and my brother-in-law, Gregor Munro, is coming with him,” he said. “I’ve also got a couple of old members flying in from London and I think we’ve got a couple of buses coming up from the club on Friday.
“It’s going to be pretty mental and I’m just going to try and enjoy it as much as I can. It’s going to be a great week and I’m really looking forward to it.”