Teenager made history last season by becoming the first amateur to win on the Mena Tour and 12 months on he expects another good showing.
'Success would be a win': Rayhan Thomas in confident mood ahead of Dubai Creek Open title defence
Back at the place where he created history last year, and on a course he knows better than most, Rayhan Thomas is understandably bullish about his chances this week at the Dubai Creek Open.
The Dubai-based teenager, still only 17, is one of the favourites at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club as the Mena Tour swings back into action following its summer hiatus. And for good reason, too.
Thomas triumphed at the event 12 months ago, sealing a play-off victory against England's Luke Joy to become the first amateur to win on the developmental tour.
As defending champion this week, and following another summer of sustained progress, Thomas appeared in confident mood ahead of Monday’s first round. Having grown up playing the Creek only accentuates his conviction.
“A successful week would definitely be a win," Thomas said. "I won last year so I definitely know what it takes to win on this course. I know it like the back of my hand, I’ve been playing it for the past eight years. They take care of me here very well, so a successful week would be a win. And I think I can definitely do that.”
His familiarity with the course is such that others could come calling for advice. That includes even Darren Clarke, the 2011 British Open champion competing this week in his role as Mena Tour patron. On Sunday, the Northern Irishman said he may defer to Thomas on how best to get around the course. The relationship seems reciprocal, though.
“Getting to play alongside Darren Clarke will be awesome – it’s huge,” said Thomas, who is paired with Clarke for the first round. “He’s a very experienced player. When you win a major championship you’re one of the best, so I’ll also be trying to pick his brain and putting some of that into my game as well."
First, though, Thomas needs to shed a little competitive rust. He has not played for about six weeks, but is coming off an excellent few months that included finishing third in July at the illustrious US Junior Amateur.
Thomas has climbed to 50th in the amateur world rankings and is the lead qualifier for Trevor Immelman’s International team ahead of the inaugural Junior President’s Cup this month. Meanwhile, earlier this year Thomas made the cut at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
He traces a lot of his 2017 success back to his Dubai Creek Open victory last year.
“That was huge, obviously for my career because that was the biggest win so far,” Thomas said. “It got me into almost every event I’ve played this year. And I also want to give a shout out to the Creek - they’ve put in a little plaque on the rock that I hit in regulation back then, so just shows you how much they care."