Fresh from runner-up finish at Dubai Creek Open, the Dubai-based amateur golfer is part of 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman's International team to take on the United States at Plainfield Country Club in New Jersey
Rayhan Thomas, world-record holder for birdie blitz, 'can't wait' to take on America's best amateurs at inaugural Junior President’s Cup
A week after entering the record books and creating headlines around the world, Rayhan Thomas was back doing regular teenage things. Namely, trying to stay in mum’s good books.
“I’m just packing now,” he said. “Have to get done, otherwise my mum’s on my case for not finishing it yet.”
It is far from a chore, though. Thomas, the talented Dubai-based amateur golfer, was getting set to head to America for next week’s inaugural Junior President’s Cup. There, he will form part of the International team taking on the United States at Plainfield Country Club in New Jersey, a collection of 24 of the best young males from around the world age 19 and under.
Not a bad way to celebrate this week's climb to 31 in the world amateur rankings - his highest position to date.
“I can’t wait.” Thomas said. “I know it’ll be a great week. I’ll learn a lot and it's something that I can put in my book as one of my accomplishments. I’m very proud of to be a part of a team this big.”
Even at 17, Thomas’ list of accomplishments is already impressive. Last week, he added another, carding nine consecutive birdies at the Mena Tour’s Dubai Creek Open to equal a world record. He was the tournament’s defending champion, having last year become the first amateur to win on the Mena Tour.
Thomas’ birdie blitz contributed to a second-round 61. Although he finished runner-up eventually, his Tuesday tally quickly lit up social media. European Tour professionals and Olympians-cum-politicians tweeted their congratulations. Trevor Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion and captain of Thomas’ International team next week, took to social media, too. The Golf Channel carried the news.
“It’s been fun, but I know it was blown up a little,” Thomas said. “It’s been all over the place, which I had to get used to. It was the most coverage I’ve ever had.
“There were a lot of messages flooding in after that round. It think everyone was pretty excited, as was I. I just tried to look at everything over Wednesday and Thursday and tried to respond.
“But then it was get ready for the President’s Cup. I’ve been grinding my butt off in Dubai in the heat since then. It was important to get my head cleared and focused on the President’s Cup.”
To help with that, Thomas will spend his first few days in New Jersey with his dad’s friends before joining up with the team on site on Saturday. Sunday is the official practice day, followed by two days of what promises to be intense competition. The format follows the men's President’s Cup, which is contested in New Jersey later in the week.
“I love matchplay,” Thomas said. “My doubles record in Dubai is pretty good. I’ve obviously never played at this international level, this high a level, but it’ll be really good fun. And I just love singles matchplay, the feel and the play of it, how good it is.”
Thomas proved how good he was in July. He finished third at the US Junior Amateur in Kansas - the United States Golf Association’s lead amateur event - losing in the semi-final to eventual champion Noah Goodwin, a player he will line up against next week.
In fact, Thomas knows most of the guys competing. He met a few in Kansas, and a Snapchat group has been set up between the International players. They have introduced themselves where needed, shared stories and coordinated plans for the competition.
“Just good banter between the boys, basically,” Thomas said. “These guys will hopefully be the guys I’ll be playing with some day on tour, so they’re friendships I want to build now and grow throughout the years. I’ll hopefully be playing against or alongside them a lot in future.”
With Immelman as mentor, and fellow South African Gary Player as the team’s honorary captain, Thomas can’t wait to tap into some elite-level golfing knowledge, all part of the road to becoming a better player.
He has emailed Immelman back and forth in preparation, and his coach Justin Parsons, from Dubai’s Butch Harmon School of Golf, has been in touch with him, too. Packing completed on cue, and the long trip Stateside made, Thomas seems good to go.
“A good week would be basically just trying to learn as much as I can,” he said. “The thing with golf is you’re always by yourself, but all of a sudden you’re representing something bigger than yourself, so that’s always puts an extra pressure on you. But it’s a nice pressure because you’re representing something and hopefully leading something to victory.
“I feel my amateur career is a big learning curve, where I’m trying to absorb all the things I can that can prepare me for the professional game.
“And obviously being in a position where I can pick so many people’s brains and talk to so many legends and great players. Win or lose it doesn’t matter, as long as I learn something from it. Then I’ve had a successful week.”