06 Apr 2020

Rayhan Thomas: ‘Oklahoma feels like home’

By Scott Grayston

Rayhan Thomas is one of the brightest golfing talents to ever emerge out of the United Arab Emirates. Born and raised in Dubai, the Indian amateur made waves on the UAE golf scene winning numerous events in his early teens to alert the wider world to his potential. He became the first amateur winner on the MENA Tour when he was 16 at the 2016 Dubai Creek Open and then the following year he teed it up alongside the world’s best in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA and made the cut the following week in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Six months later, more people started paying attention to his progressing talent when he shot nine consecutive birdies on the MENA Tour to equal the world record for an Official World Golf Ranking event.

Thomas, now 20, decided to head over to America for a golf scholarship at the celebrated Oklahoma State University (OSU) towards the end of last year. Their rich list of alumni includes Ryder Cup star Rickie Fowler, PGA Tour hotshot Matthew Wolff and former No.1 amateur in the world Viktor Hovland. And it’s been a decision that the gifted youngster certainly hasn’t regretted.

“Oklahoma State University has definitely lived up to its reputation so far,” says Thomas. “It is one of the best places to be and I am really happy with the decision I made in moving here. It is all going well, we are in a ‘sheltering place’ situation at the moment and everybody has to be inside. The golf course is open but that is about it – no range, no putting greens, so if you want to go play you just have to park your car and walk up on the first tee and start playing. That is good for me because Oklahoma is one of the few states that has allowed the golf courses to stay open.”

Leaving home after being brought up in the comfortable surroundings of Dubai can be difficult for anyone to do, but OSU and the golfing students have made Thomas’ freshman year at college feel like an easy transition.

“I think dealing with leaving home was a bit challenging at first, but everyone here is so nice and welcoming so I definitely feel like I’m at home,” he adds. “Now when I refer to home, I do refer to Oklahoma. The coaches are great, they take good care of us and I am surrounded by seven guys on the team who are like brothers to me.”

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Although the young man has fitted in well to his new surroundings, there are obviously always going to be aspects he misses from life in Dubai. “I miss the food back home the most,” Thomas admits. “I love the food in Dubai and I got a bit spoiled there with the options I had. And obviously I miss my parents too!”

Away from the home comforts, as everyone knows, the modest golfer does his talking on the golf course. “My golf has been okay,” Thomas says. “I was struggling a little bit in 2019 but I started playing really well between February and the beginning of March this year. I was getting ready to play in Arizona after winning a qualifier for school to see who goes in the team – but the event got cancelled. Apart from that, things are looking up and I am trying to keep myself busy.”

Thomas grew up playing in the Middle East and did venture out to other other countries to represent his country and play in prestigious amateur events but had little experience of competing in the United States. He belives his current situation has been invaluable for his game as he competes on new courses against higher level of fields at college.

“The most challenging part about playing in the States is playing golf all over the country,” he adds. “Back home I would play on similar courses all the time even in the smaller events, but the golf courses here are Major and PGA Tour level, so it is very special to play on these pristine courses.”

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The Dubai-based golfing trio of Josh Hill, Toby Bishop and Arjun Gupta have been making the headlines since Thomas went to America and all have big decisions to make in the upcoming years on what path they’d like to take. Thomas would have no hesitance recommending his route.

“I do speak to Toby a little bit and I hope he finds his way here as well,” he says. “I do see them having similar routes so it depends on whether they want to go to college or not. I know Toby wants to get into college but I don’t know whether Josh does. But I’d definitely recommend college for the both of them.”

After competing twice in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and once in the Desert Classic, is there a chance we will see the young star return to compete in the Middle East in the near distant future?

“I have no idea if I will play in the Middle East anytime soon as we get pretty busy over here but I’d always love to play back home and hopefully I will be back soon, in the meantime I hope everyone stays safe.”

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