As a MENA Tour history-maker, Rayhan Thomas is no stranger to the local golf media. A sparkling 68 in his OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic bow Thursday and a one-word answer to contextualise the heady feat suggest there’ll be more international scribes seeking out the Dubai-adopted Indian amateur soon enough.
Are you pinching yourself surveying a leaderboard with so many big names in your rear-view mirror, including Tiger Woods, that guy with 14 majors and 79 PGA Tour wins, a whopping nine shots back? “No.” It was a politely delivered but emphatic response from a 17-year-old who is clearly comfortable on his carefully-plotted path to golf’s professional promised land.
Thomas’ round was rightly celebrated, especially by the increasingly rowdy Dubai Creek and Emirates GC members among his galleries and by the developmental MENA Tour on which Thomas became the first amateur winner at his home Dubai Creek Open in September.
“Was a good day, can’t complain. Holed a few putts. Hit some really good iron shots and had a chip in on five [for birdie], so nice day,” was Thomas’ understated analysis of the round of his life afterwards.
“When you play well it’s easy, when you play bad it’s difficult. The wind picked up on our back nine, which was our front. It got a bit tricky on the front but I just kept my head and it was a good day.”
The 68, as meritorious as it was, also needs to be put into context because low numbers often lead to unadulterated expectation. That in turn breeds burden, something a player so young doesn’t need.
As Thomas reminded the media before his Desert Classic debut, he’s still two years from finishing school (admittedly correspondence school so he can prioritise golf) and has only just begun his top flight golfing education; the Desert Classic is his third European Tour start.
Also, while he’s playing the Majlis from the extreme tips this week and has to contend with lusher rough and faster
greens than normal, Emirates GC is a home away from home. Learning to eke out scores when your swing is off-key on foreign fields is what separates contenders from pretenders.
Thomas has achievde that, at junior level at least, having won the Scottish Boys’ Strokeplay.
Mature beyond his years, he knows the European Tour is a different ballpark altogether and isn’t getting ahead of himself. Asked what it was like being made an “honorary member” at Emirates GC, he was quick to set the record straight.
“I wouldn’t quite say honorary member. I’m not a legend yet,” he said.
“But for sure it’s awesome and a big thanks to Dubai Golf for helping me with my membership [at Emirates GC and Dubai Creek], which is a huge cost. Just great to be in association with this club.”
Thomas described playing alongside Anirban Lahiri (69) and S.S.P Chawrasia (77) in an all-Indian threesome as the perfect group for his first Desert Classic even though “they were speaking a lot of Hindi which I don’t understand.”
The teen also loved the support from his growing galleries.
“There was a bit of noise. I think I annoyed [Open champion Henrik] Stenson on the 7th hole, on our 4th, when I made birdie. But no, it was awesome. They helped me ride the momentum today with just how much noise they were making, so I couldn’t really play bad.”
“I just feel more comfortable here, obviously this being my home [patch]. Abu Dhabi gave me a bit of confidence because I played well there, was around the cut line [he missed by five shots]. Today just felt really good on the course, got off to a hot start.”
Indeed. Starting on the 10th, Thomas went out on 35 and came home in 33 with the inward nine highlight being a chip in with his sand wedge from the 20 yards left of the 5th green. A second bogey of the day on the 7th stilted his progress but means the amateur is just three shots off the lead in a group of five including Stenson.
“It would be awesome to make the cut in, I guess, my home open. But not really thinking about it,” he said.
So how will you approach Friday? “Play like I did today (laughs). Stick to my game plan, it worked today and so can work tomorrow as well. My iron play was very good and my chipping was very good. I knew if I missed a green I’d still be able to make up and down.”
It will be fascinating to see how Thomas responds Friday and hopefully into the weekend. Either way, he’s soaking up every lesson as he prepares for the paid ranks thanks to ‘golf in DUBAi’s’ increasingly influential MENA Tour breeding ground.