BELEK, Turkey (Reuters) - When the head of the national federation walks past and smiles, ‘I‘m gonna kill you’, he is clearly joking but in some ways it also underlines how much pressure Turkey’s first professional golfer is facing.
Hamza Sayin only turned pro last month and is experiencing a baptism of fire at this week’s $7 million Turkish Airlines Open.
The fresh-faced 27-year-old from Istanbul occupied 77th place in the 78-man field after two rounds, with only amateur compatriot Ali Altuntas faring worse.
“This is my first time on the European Tour and I‘m just so happy to have my name associated with this tournament,” Sayin told Reuters in an interview as he sat outside the grand clubhouse at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal course.
”I‘m enjoying it and it’s good experience for me. I’ve been playing for 15 years, I started with my friends when I was 12 and I’ve always wanted to play golf.
“There aren’t many golf courses in Turkey and the national federation only started in 1996 so it’s a new sport for us.”
At that point, federation president Ahmet Agaoglu walked by, looked over and interrupted the interview to wave his fist and smile: “When you’re finished with him I‘m gonna kill him”.
Agaoglu has big dreams for Sayin and wants the player to launch his professional career this week with a confidence-boosting performance.
”The president is a good guy,“ said the young golfer. ”He and the federation always give me 100 percent support.
”He has known me for 15 years. He knows me well and he helps me all the time.
“After this tournament I will play maybe eight or 10 (second tier) Challenge Tour events for experience and then maybe I can try to get on the main circuit,” said Sayin.
“I am feeling the pressure as the first Turkish professional, especially in my first tournament this week.”
While there were birdies galore for world number one Tiger Woods and the rest of the players on the leaderboard, they proved elusive for Sayin as he struggled to a seven-over 79 for a 10-over total of 154.
The 27-year-old said Spain’s Sergio Garcia was his inspiration as a child.
”When I started to play golf I looked at some magazines and saw Sergio,“ Sayin explained. ”He was, and still is, a very talented and popular sportsman.
“He was the player I wanted to play like. He is my hero. He is an aggressive player but I‘m not quite as aggressive as him.”
Sayin spoke excitedly when he mentioned his meeting with Garcia in Barcelona two years ago.
“I met him at the Spanish amateur championship,” he said. “I had a picture taken with him and talked to him for a while - it made me feel important.”
Golf is a new and developing sport in Turkey. Until the early 1990s the country only had one course, and that was a nine-hole layout in Istanbul.
Now there are two in Istanbul and a distinctly Iberian feel to the Belek area in the city of Antalya which now houses 15 courses in close proximity all aimed at a growing tourist community.
”This is all so important for my country,“ said Sayin. ”Golf is getting more and more popular here.
”When the federation started there were maybe 60 or 70 players, now there are around 5,000.
“When I started there were less than 20 junior players but in the last 10 years we have begun to get so many more.”
Apart from one day achieving a regular spot on the European Tour, Sayin’s big target is to represent Turkey when golf returns to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
”I want to play in the Olympics,“ he said. ”If I have a good training programme and practice well I can get into the world’s top 300 and get straight in.
“I will get my first ranking points this week and from there we will see how it goes.”
Editing by Rex Gowar