Rayhan Thomas
Rayhan Thomas will give up his amateur status this week Image Credit: X

Dubai-born sensation Rayhan Thomas will embark on a new chapter in his career this week as the 24-year-old waves goodbye to his amateur status and turns professional.

The youngster is arguably the hottest golfing prodigy to emerge from the UAE, boasting a CV that features a series of remarkable accolades.

In 2016, he became the first amateur to win a MENA Tour event after being crowned champion at the Dubai Creek Open at the age of 16.

A year later, at the same tournament, the then 17-year-old upstaged former Open champion Darren Clarke as he equalled a world record with nine consecutive birdies, before finishing runner-up in the prestigious Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in 2018.

Those impressive feats were all achieved during his time in the UAE, but for the last five years, the Indian star has called the United States home after joining Oklahoma State University (OSU) on a golf scholarship.

GIU - Rayhan Thomas
Rayhan Thomas has spent the last five years at Oklahoma State University Image Credit: Supplied

In that time Thomas has been part of the university’s famed Cowboy Golf roster, which boasts Viktor Holvand, Matthew Wolff and Rickie Fowler as alumni.

Victories haven’t been as frequent for Thomas as they once were, but being crowned champion of the Grier Jones Shocker Invitational towards the end of 2023 coupled with the expert guidance he has received from head coach Alan Bratton, has ensured he feels ready to enter the cutthroat world of professional golf.

He will turn professional on June 1, before heading to California to try and secure one of nine cards available at PGA Tour Americas Qualifying School, the feeder Tour to the Korn Ferry Tour.

“This whole year has been trending the right way,” said Thomas, who was a frequent winner of Emirates Golf Federation-sanctioned events in the UAE.

“I've had a bunch of top tens and a couple of top 20s and those things have been great for the confidence ahead of turning pro.

“This was kind of the path that I’d set myself on before coming to college. I didn’t expect to be taking a fifth year, but I was lucky enough get it, and I needed that extra year to try and figure out my game as I wasn’t playing well enough.

“This last year has been a huge help to get my game on track and give me the confidence I need.”

The former Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club member’s confidence had taken a huge hit in 2023 after suffering with a stress fracture in his right hand, which saw him miss five months of competitive action.

Rather than step away from the game during his recovery period, Thomas opted to gain a different insight into the game by caddying for former OSU star Zach Bauchou at a series of events, including LIV Golf Promotions at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Stepping onto the other side of the bag for a short period turned out to be a game-changer.

“With me having an injury last summer just before my fifth year, I spent some time caddying and learning from OSU alumni, Zach Bauchou,” he says.

“I was on his bag for around four weeks and learned a lot from him, which motivated me as I know he had struggles with his game.

“When I saw him improve, I knew I could do it too. When I saw the results, I thought I could definitely do this.”

Pro life

Just like Bauchou did after graduating in 2019, Thomas now enters the professional game where he hopes to reach the star-studded heights of fellow OSU alumni Hovland and Fowler.

The pair are household names in the golf world these days and have earned millions from the game, but it’s worth remembering their success, which includes a combined 12 PGA Tour victories, didn’t come overnight.

The duo both played on the PGA Tour’s feeder Tour, the Korn Ferry Tour, early in their professional careers, which acted as springboard to bigger and better things in the States.

Thomas will make his own debut on the Korn Ferry Tour next month when he competes at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas Wichita Open after securing an invite thanks to his collegiate victory in Kanas last year.

It will be the first real chance for the former Dubai resident to test his game against up-and-coming players who are desperate to play their way onto the goliath that is the PGA Tour.

While it will be a whole new experience for Thomas, he does have a slight edge over a number of his peers, with Hovland offering words of wisdom to his fellow Cowboy as well as reaching out with a hospitable offer.

“I’m going to be staying at Viktor Hovland’s house for a little bit when I get back to Oklahoma,” he said.

“I just needed a place to stay, and he has a place there. He’s been very good to me and a great guy to bounce ideas off.”

What a life! Staying in the home of the fifth best golfer in the world and making your first Korn Ferry Tour start just weeks after turning professional is a pretty special way to mark this exciting new chapter.

How Thomas gets on in Wichita will determine what he does next.

A top 25 finish will see him automatically gain entry into the next event. If he doesn’t finish high up on the leaderboard, he will make his way across the country to compete in Monday Qualifying for the Tour.

Thomas hopes that will lead him to his ultimate dream, which remains the same as it was when growing up in Dubai - Compete at the highest level on the PGA Tour.

“The final goal is to compete on the PGA Tour,” he said.

“I think I still have a lot of refining to do; there are parts of my game that definitely still need to get better, but I think overall, my understanding of the game and my GOLF IQ is high enough to compete out there.”

When we’ll next get the pleasure of seeing Thomas on UAE shores remains unknown, with his mind fully focussed on achieving his goals right now.

But don’t for a second think he has forgotten the place that turned him into the golfer and, more importantly, the man he is today.

“Growing up in the UAE was huge for me,” he says.

“Golf in Dubai was blooming; the Claude Harmon III Performance Golf Academy was great for my development. I was coached by Justin Parsons there from the age of 12 and he remains a huge mentor to me.

“Dubai is still home. My parents still live there, and I love the place. I’ll definitely be back.”