Positive memories from last season’s Thailand swing and a happy ending at his most recent event in the U.S. has Rayhan Thomas in a chipper mood heading into his first start of the MENA Tour season on Tuesday.
Had it not been for American 15-year-old Victoria Tip-Aucha’s historic appearance in Hau Hin, Thomas’ return to the MENA Tour would have undoubtedly generated the main interest ahead of the $50,000 MahaSamutr Masters at Banyan GC.
Regardless of how Tip-Aucha fares as the developmental tour’s female pioneer, Thomas’ performance will garner much attention after his growing reputation enabled the Dubai-based Indian amateur No.1 to bypass the first three events of the season for better things – the very purpose of the MENA Tour.
American teen set for historic MENA Tour start in Thailand
Thomas created headlines when he made the cut at February’s Dubai Desert Classic and played alongside 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett in the final round. It followed a practice round tee time with Rickie Fowler in Abu Dhabi and earned the teen a late invite to the Hero Indian Open, his fourth European Tour start (after playing the Qatar Masters in 2016).
Since then Thomas has focused on the prestigious Junior Invitational at Sage Valley GC near Augusta National where a closing 68 saw him finish a credible T13 in what is widely regarded as the world’s leading junior tournament.
The invaluable U.S. experience, coupled with his emergence in Thailand last season when he finished second at the Mountain Creek Open and third at the MahaSamutr Masters, has Thomas raring for this week’s 54-holer.
“It feels good to return to golf courses where you have enjoyed some good finishes,” said Thomas who kicked on from Thailand to become the MENA Tour’s first amateur winner at his home Dubai Creek Open last September.
“I have been working very hard with my coach Justin Parsons and the good thing is that I am feeling confident about my game.”
Thomas won’t have it all his own way in Thailand, of course. Englishman Zane Scotland, a 10-time winner, is back after a back injury saw him skip last week’s Ras Al Khaimah Classic. Bahrain-based Daniel Owen will look to rebound from a disastrous final round 82 at Tower Links after leading through 36-holes with a pair of 66s.
Other notable contenders include Lee Corfield, Craig Hinton and Andrew Marshall, all multiple winners on the tour, and cricketer-turned-golfer Craig Kieswetter, who graduated from the tour’s qualifying school earlier this year.
They’ll all be mindful of Wolmer Murillo, the 36-year-old Venezuelan star who won the Mountain Creek Open by Golf Citizen by three shots and followed it up with a second-place finish in the MahaSamutr Masters a week later when the tour travelled to Thailand for the first time in 2016.
Murillo, who is attached to Banyan Golf Club, will be keen to pick up where he left off last year, but will have to contend with a 139-player field including 13 MENA Tour winners. The tournament will have a distinct Thai flavour with a strong home contingent of 25 golfers.
UAE’s Ahmed Al Musharrekh will spearhead the challenge in the MENA Division, confident of racking up some good results.
“I am working on certain aspects of my game and hope to get things dialed in sooner than later. It’s always a work in progress,”Al Musharrekh said.