Dubai-based teenager Rayhan Thomas is looking to use his third-placed finish at the US Junior Amateurs as a platform to build on future success in the game.
The Mena Tour member became the first Indian to reach the semi-finals of the preeminent junior tournament – the United States Golf Association’s lead amateur event - where he was defeated in Kansas on Friday to Noah Goodwin, last year’s runner-up who went on to capture the title. The tournament’s previous winners include Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth.
Thomas lost to Goodwin 5&4, but now turns his attention to next week’s Western Amateur Championship in Illinois, as he seeks to continue his rise through the non-professional ranks. At present, Thomas sits 85th in the amateur world standings.
“Playing the event knowing it’s the biggest junior event in the world and to finish top three means a lot,” said Thomas, 17, who last year became the first amateur to win on the Mena Tour. “It means I can play against some of the best juniors in the world, so this gives me a lot of confidence heading into the Western Am, which is another huge amateur event.
“The biggest thing I took from the week was just mentally, I had to be very strong during the 36-hole matchplay events – play really solid in the morning and then, if you win your match, play really solid again against another opponent in the afternoon.
“That was the toughest bit: to be mentally ready and strong to match your opponent in the morning and afternoon. Golf is obviously a very draining sport mentally and physically, but more mentally when you’re playing match play.”
In all, Thomas played seven competitive rounds at Flint Hills National Club, having to battle through a strokeplay event before the competition took on a matchplay format from the round of 64. Having made it to the quarter-finals and beyond, Thomas qualifies for next year’s tournament, which takes place at the renowned Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey.
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“It was a lot of fun, a lot of pressure too, which is why I play this game: to put myself in a position to win an event,” Thomas said. “I came close, but obviously didn’t get it done.
“But it was great fun, I really enjoyed it and definitely want to come back next year and try and compete at Baltusrol, which is supposed to be one of the best venues, a major championship venue. So it should be fun in New Jersey next year.”
Asked what he would need to do to go that extra step in 12 months, Thomas said: “I think I’d need to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m progressing nicely, so it’s just putting myself in positions like this to win events. The more times I put myself in position to win then eventually I will do it.
“I’m trying to compete more in the US and in Europe and in big amateur events around the world, which is essential for me to put myself in pressure situations and see how I react, get feedback from it, learn from it and move one and improve.
"Looking forward to next week, I can't wait. My game's feeling good, mentally I'm feeling really good, so hope I can get the job done at the Western Am."