Rayan Ahmed
Rayan Ahmed in action during the first round of the Abu Dhabi Challenge Image Credit: Thomas Wragg

The UAE’s Rayan Ahmed arrived at the Abu Dhabi Challenge armed with fond memories of a sublime 63 he shot at Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club just last week, but could he replicate similar form on a more testing set-up for his Challenge Tour debut at the same venue?

The answer was quite simply, yes.

The 17-year-old amateur, who won Individual Gold and Team Gold for the UAE at last month’s GCC Golf Championship, mixed five birdies and one bogey to sign for a highly impressive 66 to sit just three strokes off the lead.

“It doesn’t get much better than that, it was a great start,” said Ahmed, who received an invitation from the Emirates Golf Federation into the elite-level event, which includes the likes of five-time DP World Tour winner Alex Levy and 2023 Ryder Cup Vice Captain Nicolas Colsaerts.

“I was holing everything when I shot that 63 last week. I wasn’t holing as much today, but I was just trying to take it a hole at a time, I wasn’t thinking of previous rounds here.

“Obviously the course is playing longer, but as long as you play your game it doesn’t make a huge difference.

“I’ve gained some distance off the tee with my new driver, so I was matching the Challenge Tour guys off the tee, hitting an average of around 310 yards I think it would be fair to say.”

The youngster, who began representing the UAE last year, had a handicap of eight just two years ago, but now plays off +4.

To improve his handicap so drastically, in such a short amount of time, is an impressive feat, and one that Ahmed credits with hard work and a move opposite a certain golf club in Dubai.

“A few years ago, we moved to this house which was right next to the driving range at Montgomerie, he says.

“I’d go there every day to practice and that got my handicap down very quickly. I then joined the Claude Harmon III Academy and started working with Jamie McConnell, who really helped me improve my game.”

With the Abu Dhabi Challenge being a professional tournament on the official feeder tour to the DP World, where the likes of Rory McIlory and Tommy Fleetwood compete regularly, a whole host of players have an experienced, full-time caddie on the bag.

Rayan Ahmed
Rayan Ahmed represented the UAE at last year's World Amateur Team Championships Image Credit: Supplied

But for Ahmed, it was a family affair, with his dad proudly playing his part over 18 holes.

“It’s great to have him on the bag,” says Ahmed, shortly after I spoke to father, who was grinning from ear to ear after his son’s impressive display, which he says is no “fluke”.

“He understands my distances. We’re a little less experienced than others out here, but it was great playing with my dad. For my first Challenge Tour start, I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else on the bag.”

Ahmed enters tomorrow’s second round in tied 24th, three strokes behind a quartet of players on seven under par, including Englishman John Parry, while the UAE’s No.1 professional golfer Joshua Grenville-Wood shares fifth place on five under par.

The game plan for Ahmed tomorrow? Just like today, take it hole by hole as he seeks to make the weekend on his first Challenge Tour start.

“That would be brilliant, but tomorrow when I’m playing, I won’t be focussing on that,” he says.

“I’m just going to take it hole by hole and do my best.”