Rayhan Thomas is trying to keep his expectations to minimum as he prepares for his third European Tour appearance of the season this week, but is unable to hide his excitement at the opportunity to showcase his talent and skill in his home country.
The 17-year-old Dubai-based youngster is one of four amateurs invited by the Indian Golf Union (IGU) to take part in the Hero Indian Open, a $1.75 million tournament co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours.
Placed 98th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Thomas is India’s No1 amateur, but he has developed his skills in Dubai, where he was born and brought up.
The national Open of India starts Thursday at the Gary Player-designed DLF Golf & Country Club.
It will be the fourth European Tour outing for Thomas, who played the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and Omega Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year, as well as the Qatar Masters last year.
At the Desert Classic, he became only the second UAE-based amateur to make the professional cut, eventually finishing tied 60th.
But despite his brilliant achievements over the past one year, Thomas is not getting his hopes high, especially on a golf course he has never played before.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s like I am playing two home Opens in succession. I have grown up watching the Desert Classic, so I always wanted to play that. And as an Indian, nothing gets any bigger than the Indian Open,” said Thomas.
“I really can’t wait. Obviously, playing in Abu Dhabi and the Desert Classic was huge for me, and when you have done that, you do want to keep playing on the big stage. So, to get another opportunity is just fantastic and I am very grateful to Hero and IGU for giving me the invite.
“It really feels good to be the No1 amateur in India. We are a country that is growing rapidly when it comes to golf. So, to have that title is something special. I am very excited about going back to India and to prove myself.
“But I am trying not to have any extra expectations after making the cut in Dubai. I just want to play my best golf and see where I finish. As long as I can gain something from the week, I am happy.”
Thomas has never played at the DLF Golf & Country Club, and he cannot speak Hindi, which meant a frantic search for a caddie with whom he can communicate.
“No clue. I have never seen the course. I checked it out only on the website and saw that there were a lot of dogleg lefts and rights there. I have tried to shape my shots more while practicing here,” said Thomas.
“I really wanted to play the Indian Open at Delhi Golf Club. It’s like playing the Open Championship at St Andrews. I played at the DGC once last year and I really liked it a lot. Hopefully, the tournament will go back to the golf course in the future and I will be able to play it there.
“I was looking for a caddie when I spoke to Manish Goyal, with whom I played a few MENA Tour events. And Manish was happy to carry the bag for me this week.
“I am delighted to get someone as a caddie who is also a good player himself. Most importantly, he can speak English, because I don’t know a word of Hindi.”
Thomas said he has been working on a few things on his swing with his coach Justin Parsons since the Dubai Desert Classic, and his efforts are already bearing fruits.
“I have been working on a couple of things, like weight transfer. I am trying to use the ground better to generate a bit more power and speed. I have gained a mile or two in clubhead speed, so I should be hitting it a bit further than what I have during Abu Dhabi and Dubai tournaments,” added Thomas.
“But apart from that, I have pretty much tried to practice the same things as before.
“I also have a new putter in the bag. It’s similar to the old Scotty Cameron I had, but this one is customized for me. It has different alignment lines, slightly lower loft and different shaft angle. I am liking it a lot, so hopefully I will roll it pure when I get there.”