Dubai Desert Classic golf: Rayhan Thomas excels on Day 1, Tiger Woods shoots 77
The big visage is the perfect camouflage to the child in him, but then Rayhan Thomas makes no effort to hide the simplicity. The broad shoulders and big forearms help in his vocation, and after engaging in golf fitness for a while, the 17-year-old Indian amateur can vouch that it helps.
Like any other wide-eyed enthusiast, Rayhan, whose parents arrived here 23 years ago from Kochi, grew up idolising Tiger Woods on the home computer.
Almost all the memories are of watching the videos of Tiger at the Majors. There was an opportunity to meet him a few years ago, but Rayhan fell short. The setting was the Dubai Desert Classic but the surging numbers prevented Rayhan from getting close. “There were just too many people watching,” he said.
From there to be inside the ropes this week, the feeling is a bit different, as is finding himself up on the leaderboard. At four-under 68, Rayhan was the best-placed Indian on Thursday, three behind Day One leader Sergio Garcia.
That’s one of the aspects of Rayhan growing up into a strapping, young golfer. In the midst of the excitement around him in these parts, he shared the fond remembrance of his first clubs made of plastic.
That wasn’t too long back and a laugh rang out at how soon after he took up the sport his father, John, who was instrumental in his initiation, quit. “It was as if his connect with golf was for a purpose,” said Rayhan.
As part of the endeavour to get better, he started competing at the local MENA (Middle East and North Africa) tour, and notched up his first win in a professional event on his home course, Dubai Creek, last year. Coupled with that is teeing up in blue-riband events like the Abu Dhabi Championship and Qatar Masters, and Rayhan is now comfortable competing at the top level.
From attending a clinic by Lee Westwood as a 12-year-old to being named honorary member of the Emirates Golf Club, amid protests that “I’m not a legend yet”, Rayhan’s association with this venue goes back a while, and it showed on Thursday. Followed by a vociferous crowd, he admitted “it helped me ride the momentum with just how much noise they were making, so I couldn’t really play bad”.
Despite being away from the land of his ancestors, there is affinity. Asked if he would single out players for advice this week, Rayhan chose SSP Chawrasia and Anirban Lahiri. “Since you’re from the same country, you gel better,” he said.
Paired with the two, the opening day wasn’t too fruitful as few tips came his way. “They spoke a lot in Hindi which I don’t understand, but I can’t wait to play with them tomorrow (Friday),” he said.
While every bit of exposure to top-flight golf will make him better, it will be a while before Rayhan turns pro. “Not before 2019,” as that’s when he finishes school.
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