It’s hard to imagine a more memorable start to a professional career than competing in the world’s only night golf tournament a mere 15 minutes from home. Add to the fact that the pro happens to be a 15-year-old high school student who stands 6-feet tall and generates head-turning power and it’s a headline-worthy debut for Chiara Noja at this week’s Dubai Moonlight Classic.
The German-born player was raised in England and moved to Dubai shortly before last year’s Dubai Moonlight Classic. After playing almost exclusively in professional events this season on the LET’s Access Series, where she finished runner-up in Belgium, Noja decided it was time to take the next step. While she wouldn’t reveal all that’s in store for her upcoming schedule, Noja said it was too good to wait.
“I don’t want to pass up on those opportunities when I know I’m ready to compete as a professional,” she said.
Chiara Noja, 15, set to make her pro debut at the Dubai Moonlight Classic. (Courtesy photo)
Noja said the family knew that winter training in England wasn’t ideal for getting her game to the next level, and when her mother received a job opportunity in Dubai, they made the move last year. Shortly thereafter, Noja received an offer make her debut on the LET as a 14-year-old at the Dubai Moonlight Classic.
After a second-round 86 sent her spiraling, however, she later admitted on Instagram that back at the hotel, she couldn’t imagine going back on the course for the final round.
“I was unable to deal with the pressure,” wrote Noja, “and the fact that millions of people were watching on TV, and consequently had a complete meltdown.”
Looking back, going into the Dubai event having played very little golf due to COVID-19 restrictions left her feeling very “unsure” of who she was as a 14-year-old athlete. After a long talk with her team, however, she followed up that 86 with a 73 and was left speechless by the turnaround.
And while she goes into this year’s event as a pro, she’s hoping to carry fewer expectations, saying that she wants her attitude to define her golf, and not the other way around.
“This year has been a lot of growth mentally,” she said, “just accepting that failure is going to be part of it whether I want to accept that or not.”
The Dubai Moonlight Classic is being held Oct. 27-29 on the Faldo Course at Emirates Golf Club. Former No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn and sister Moriya are among the stars in the field along with Attaya Thitikul, the 18-year-old Thai player who leads the LET’s Race to Costa del Sol by over 1,400 points. Thitikul is currently ranked 28th in the world.
Winning Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew, World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies and LPGA players Maria Fassi and Bronte Law are among the event’s other invitees.
Much like Ariya Jutanugarn, Davies and Fassi, it’s Noja’s length that grabs the attention. She averages 280 yards off the tee, but said she can get up to 290 on TrackMan when she goes hard.
The athletic player dabbled in horseback riding, swimming, tennis and track growing up, but found golf to be her deepest love.
The powerful, statuesque Nelly Korda is her inspiration. When Korda went to No. 1 in the world, Noja thought she could one day do the same.
“When I look at her,” said Noja, “I sort of see myself.”
LET Qualifying School will be held in December, but Noja does not meet the tour’s minimum age requirement of 16.
“We’re looking to see if there’s any possibility of working around that,” she said.