22 September 2019: Rayhan Thomas came close to becoming the first Indian to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) last year and is determined to go one step better than his tie for second place when the 11th edition of the region’s premier amateur championship unfolds next week.
An ‘elite’ World Amateur Golf Ranking event, the AAC will be played at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China from 26-29 September.
The 19-year-old Dubai-based Thomas finished two strokes behind champion Takumi Kanaya of Japan at Sentosa Golf Club in 2018. It was a fantastic finish, having started the championship with a disappointing 74. However, he knuckled down for rounds of 64, 65 and 66 over the next three days and finished tied second at 11 under par with Japan’s Keita Nakajima.
Thomas rose to No. 11 in the WAGR earlier this year, the highest ranking ever achieved by an Indian player. Having moved his focus from golf to his studies this year in preparation for attending Oklahoma State University (OSU) in August, Thomas remains within the top 100 and currently sits at No.90 heading into the AAC.
“Finishing second in Singapore last year was a bit disappointing because, obviously, winning is the goal. However, I felt I had shot myself out of the tournament after the opening round and then to claw my way back and get into contention was pretty sweet. I will always look at last year’s AAC as one of the major highlights of my career so far,” said Thomas, who matched the world record of nine consecutive birdies in an Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) event in 2017 at the Dubai Creek Open on the MENA Tour.
“I haven’t played too much this year because I had to finish a lot of things with my school. I felt I left myself with plenty to catch up on after playing throughout last year…education was higher on the priority list this year.
“I have struggled a bit with my driver since the start of the year, and I am in the process of fixing that. I seem to have made some good progress and I am happy where my swing is right now. I am definitely looking forward to the AAC in Shanghai and yes…I want to finish one position better than what I did last time.”
Becoming part of the OSU Cowboys was a dream-come-true for Thomas, who committed to the program nearly two years ago. A lengthy chat with American PGA TOUR star Rickie Fowler while playing a practice round together during the 2017 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship convinced him to join the team that has seen great success in U.S. college golf in the past few years.
Walking in the footsteps of players like Fowler, Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff has put an extra bounce in Thomas’ steps.
“I’ve only been on campus for a month and I am enjoying every minute of it. The facilities at Karsten Creek are just fantastic, and we have an incredible group of people around us – starting from my teammates, to our coaches and trainers. They just create an environment that helps you succeed. It’s been everything I hoped it would be,” said Thomas.
“We recently had a get-together of our alums for the OSU Cowboys Pro-Am, and it was fun catching up with guys like Rickie, Viktor and Matt. What they have managed to achieve in their careers, especially guys like Viktor and Matt in just their first few weeks as professional golfers, is hugely motivating for all of us in the team.
“I definitely hope I can feed off their success. If I can get it done in Shanghai, there would be nothing like it. The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship is like a major for us amateurs. The rewards of playing at the Masters and The Open is the ultimate and makes it the most aspirational tournament for players of our region.”
The AAC champion will earn an invitation to the 2020 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club and a place in The 149th Open at Royal St George’s. The runner(s)-up will secure a position in The Open Qualifying Series.
The AAC was created in 2009 by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), the Masters Tournament and The R&A. A field of 120 players from 39 Asia Pacific nations is expected to compete in the championship, which returns to China for the third time. The country hosted the inaugural AAC in 2009 at Mission Hills Golf Club in Shenzhen, followed by the 2013 edition at Nanshan International Golf Club in Longkou City, Shandong.
Leading this year’s field, which is comprised of the finest men’s amateurs in the region, is the defending champion and current WAGR No. 2, Takumi Kanaya of Japan. Other top-ranked competitors include No. 4 David Micheluzzi, No. 11 Blake Windred (both of Australia) and No. 9 Chun An Yu of Chinese Taipei.
The home challenge will be spearheaded by the 19-year-old Lin Yuxin of Beijing, who is hoping to become only the second player after Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama to win multiple AAC titles. Lin won the 2017 AAC at Royal Wellington Golf Club in New Zealand.
Spectators are encouraged to watch the drama unfold 26-29 September at Sheshan International Golf Club. Entry to the 2019 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship is free of charge.