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.”