Sin­ga­pore wun­derkind

Golf Digest Middle East - - Editor’s Letter - KENT GRAY kent.gray@mo­ti­vate.ae Twit­ter: @Ken­tGrayGolf / @GolfDigestME

Ray­han Thomas won’t be among the top 60 play­ers tee­ing it up at Jumeirah Golf Es­tates this month for the Euro­pean Tour’s richly an­tic­i­pated $8 mil­lion sea­son swan­song. You get the im­pres­sion though that golf’s lofti­est stages won’t be be­yond the Dubai wun­derkind once he fi­nally re­lin­quishes his am­a­teur sta­tus.

All too of­ten lo­cal golf prodi­gies fade into ob­scu­rity as they leave the rel­a­tive co­coon of re­gional com­pe­ti­tion and are faced with harsh in­ter­na­tional re­al­i­ties. But Thomas’ sen­sa­tional run to joint sec­ond at the 10th Asia Pa­cific Am­a­teur Cham­pi­onship in Sin­ga­pore last month proved he has the in­testi­nal for­ti­tude to suc­ceed at the high­est level.

The 18-year-old MENA Tour trail­blazer’s abil­ity to go su­per low has never been in ques­tion as a share of the world record for suc­ces­sive birdies in a pro event, nine of them en-route to a 10-un­der 61 in de­fence of his Dubai Creek Open ti­tle last year, glo­ri­ously il­lus­trated.

If there was a tiny ques­tion mark hov­er­ing, how­ever, it was the In­dian No.1’s abil­ity to re­ally grind when his game isn’t hum­ming. It’s prob­a­bly more a case that he’s faced lit­tle ad­ver­sity in his warp-speed as­cent to star­dom but even Thomas ad­mits he “chocked” - his word not ours - af­ter bo­gey­ing his fi­nal five holes at last sum­mer’s St. An­drews Links Tro­phy to miss the cut by a shot. That was a real ham­mer blow given he’d been in se­ri­ous early con­tention and had been strug­gling to score for months de­spite strik­ing it sweetly enough. Thomas could feel things turn­ing at the Asian Games where he fin­ished 13th and later at the Eisen­hower Tro­phy where he placed eighth in­di­vid­u­ally. But it wasn’t un­til Sin­ga­pore that he put to­gether a com­plete per­for­mance. Well al­most.

Af­ter fin­ish­ing just two shots adrift of Takumi Kanaya at Sen­tosa G.C., Thomas’ open­ing round of four-over 74 was brought into sharp fo­cus given the Ja­panese 20-year-old’s prize was in­vites to next year’s Mas­ters and the 148th Open. But in the big­ger scheme of things, Thomas’ 15 un­der comeback over the fi­nal 54 holes was a phys­i­o­log­i­cal fil­lip for the fu­ture, an ex­pe­ri­ence he can draw on when he fi­nally makes it to Augusta Na­tional and other ma­jors, as we’re sure he will.

Thomas could yet reach Royal Portrush for next July’s Open af­ter earn­ing a free pass to In­ter­na­tional qual­i­fy­ing as his re­ward for sec­ond in Sin­ga­pore. What is cer­tain is a re­con­nais­sance visit to Ok­la­homa State Uni­ver­sity be­fore he starts as a fresh­man on the Cow­boys’ golf team next Septem­ber. There he’ll be un­der the guid­ance of coach Alan Brat­ton al­though he’ll re­main work­ing with de­part­ing Butch Harmon School of Golf, Dubai boss Justin Par­sons. In a for­tu­nate twist of fate, Par­sons will be just a 2½ hour flight away at his new gig at Sea Is­land G.C. in Ge­or­gia, a lot closer than he’s been for much of the past 12 months as his own ca­reer has taken off fol­low­ing Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Peter Uih­lein around the globe. Like Thomas, ‘JP’ might soon be gone but will never be for­got­ten for his con­tri­bu­tion to UAE golf, par­tic­u­larly the rise and rise of ‘Ray’. How cool it will be to see them ply­ing their re­spec­tive trades on the range at a big pro tour­na­ment some­day soon.

Talk­ing of epic pro mo­ments, how good is the 10th DP World Tour Cham­pi­onship shap­ing up to be? With all 12 vic­to­ri­ous Ry­der Cup­pers from Paris (save per­haps for Hen­rik Sten­son post el­bow surgery) and a wounded Cap­tain Amer­ica Pa­trick Reed in the lineup, JGE will be the place to be. How about one fi­nal ‘Moli­wood’ nar­ra­tive to fin­ish a thor­oughy mem­o­rable year? We’re giddy with an­tic­i­pa­tion at the golf promised by Francesco Moli­nari, Tommy Fleet­wood and co. - and the guar­an­teed ban­ter sure to re­ver­ber­ate far be­yond Earth thanks to the Euro­pean Tour’s crack team of so­cial me­dia in­flurencers.

“It proved Ray has the in­testi­nal for­ti­tude to suc­ceed at the high­est level.”

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