After playing a round of golf with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy ahead of the Dubai Desert Classic last month, Indian golf sensation Rayhan Thomas says he dreams of one day winning the prestigious tournament in his home city.
The 18-year-old received a belated birthday present in January when he enjoyed a leisurely nine holes with Northern Ireland’s McIlroy – a two-time champion in Dubai – while also receiving a sponsor’s invite to play at Emirates Golf Club.
And a European Tour win at Emirates Golf Club in the future is a burning ambition for Thomas.
“That would be a home open for me or the Indian Open. To play in the Classic and get a win there one day as a professional, that would be awesome,” Thomas, the world number 1,053, told Sport360.
“Rory (McIlroy) was awesome. To get the practice round in initially, for him to ask me to come play nine holes and then to play with him and watch what he does, he’s just a really great guy and I’m just really grateful to be able to get the opportunity to play with him.”
After a host of superb wins in the previous two years on the amateur circuit, including winning the 2016 Dubai Creek Open in the city he has called home for most of his life, many are anticipating when Thomas will likely turn professional.
But the man himself admits that remains some way in the future, with the talented youngster eyeing college in America first in the autumn of 2019.
“I think I’m still a way off,” he added. “I’ve still got a lot of swing work and growing to do, and I think college will really help me do that. Maybe in another three or four years, but I’m not really thinking about that right now.”
Thomas, who turned 18 last November, has accepted a scholarship to the famed Oklahoma State University, whose alumni include world number seven Rickie Fowler and number 16 Alex Noren, as well as a host of other stars like Hunter Mahan, Peter Uihlein and Bo Van Pelt.
And with turning pro a goal eventually for Thomas, he insists Oklahoma is the right place to further his development.
“It was my first choice and when they came in and said they were interested I jumped on the wagon,” said Thomas, who heads Stateside in September 2019.
“It’s one of the most successful golf teams. I’ve spoken to the coach a lot and the roster is fantastic so overall, with the facilities, the location, it’s a quiet little town so will allow me to focus on golf. It seemed like the right place for me.”
Darren Clarke, winner of the 2011 Open Championship and 2016 European Ryder Cup captain, described Thomas as a “huge talent” last September after the MENA Tour prodigy fired a magical 10-under 61 – including nine birdies in a row – in the second round of the Dubai Creek Open.
He eventually finished tied for second as the tournament’s defending champion, but admits he’ll play more amateur events in 2018.
“I’ll be playing a lot of amateur stuff this year, we’ve got the Asian Games coming up which I want to qualify for,” he added.
“There’s the Eisenhower Trophy too I want to try and qualify for and the British Amateur.
“I have some really big amateur events and I really want to plan for those.”
At the Gary Player Invitational in Abu Dhabi last month, he featured alongside this year’s European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn, as well as legendary nine-time major winner Player himself. And even in the more relaxed environment, Thomas said he was still absorbing useful information.
“I have fun and just try to pick up as many things as I can from these pros, these guys who have been doing it a long time,” he said. “Picking up any little bits will help me when I eventually go pro someday.”
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