Nine holes of practice on Tuesday with the defending champion and world No14 Rickie Fowler has added immensely to the confidence level of 17-year-old Rayhan Thomas.
The Dubai-based Indian, who created history last year by becoming the only amateur and the youngest player to win a MENA Golf Tour event, is playing his first Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on a special invite.
While the tournament itself holds a special place in Thomas’s heart, he was also looking forward to a practice round with Fowler and world No3 Dustin Johnson. The two Americans are coached by Butch Harmon, while Thomas works with Justin Parsons at the Butch Harmon School of Golf in The Els Club.
As it turned out, Johnson could not join the duo, but Thomas had a great time with Fowler.
“I am really thankful to Rickie that he played with me. I was very interested in seeing how he plays the course and also how he handles his business from up close,” said Thomas after the round.
“Obviously, Rickie is a very successful golfer and I wanted to find out things like how he handles pressure on the golf course and how he deals with things when playing golf.
“There are some short-term gains too. His caddie and him showed me a lot of pin positions from last year, so that should help me this week. I also liked some of the lines he took from the tee…he was 50 yards further ahead of me on some holes.”
Fowler was suitably impressed with the young man and said: “I thought he did great. I don’t feel like I’m a whole lot older than him, but he’s still a young kid, coming out, playing junior golf.
“I know he’s had some success around here and I’ve heard a lot about his game. It was just fun to go out and play nine holes. I have no expectations for him or myself on a Tuesday. It’s just fun just to go hit it around.
“I think it’s going to be a great experience for him. I love being able to see the young talent coming up, because I feel like it wasn’t very long ago that I was young and fresh coming out on Tour.
“He has a simple game. It’s very solid. You know, nothing crazy. I guess if he gets off to a good start and gets comfortable, I don’t see any reason why he can’t go play well this week.”
On Monday, Thomas also got to play a practice round with India’s Shiv Shankar Prasad Chawrasia, and the three-time European Tour champion was also full of praise for the youngster.
“I really like his game. So young and so talented,” Chawrasia said.
“He hits it straight, but he also hits it long. And he is just 17. I think he can only become better over the next couple of years. He has a very bright future ahead of him.”
Thomas, who will have Dubai resident Alistair Murray on his bag, was excited about his European Tour debut, but he was keeping his expectations in check.
“The realistic expectation for me this week is just to play the best golf I can play. I am not putting any number or goal, but I know that if I can play my best golf, I will be all right,” he said.
“I am happy with the way I have prepared for the tournament. I have spent a lot of time with Justin and we have worked on my overall game, but also particularly on my wedge game.
“There are several long holes on this golf course, so to shoot a good number, I think a sharp wedge game will be key.”
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