Rory McIlroy was singing the praise of 18-year old Dubai-based amateur sensation, Rayham Thomas after the duo played a practice round ahead of this week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Thomas, who recently turned 18, has been affored a sponsors invitation to contest this week’s 30th anniversary of the Classic.
Indeed, Thomas is some 35-years younger than two fellow invitees in Miguel Angel Jimenez and Colin Montgomerie who are past winners of the event.
McIlroy and Thomas met-up to play the closing nine holes on the famed Majlis course and with the current World No. 20 ranked amateur clearly delighted to be playing in the company of a former double Desert Classic champion.
“It was special,” said Thomas in an article appearing in Dubai-based The National.
“He’s a good guy and I’ve looked up to him for a long time, so to play nine holes with him was awesome.
“I had lunch with him eight years ago when I was lucky enough to be one of the local juniors chosen to meet him. So it’s always pretty special to meet up again.”
And McIlroy, who captured a first pro Tour title in winning the 2008 Dubai Desert Classic crown before a second in 2015, was equally delighted to spend time in the company of the ultra-talented amateur.
“Rayham has come along so well,” he said. “I’ve known him since he was 13 or 14 and everyone was talking about him then. To see how he’s progressed: he’s a great player, does all the right things, practices hard and has a good attitude towards it.
“Obviously I practiced a lot up at the Els Club at the Butch Harmon [School of Golf]. And he’s worked with [instructor] Justin [Parsons] a long time now. I remember everyone talking about this little Indian kid who’s got a really bright future.
“But the thing is I try never to impose or offer any advice because some guys don’t like that. When I was an amateur playing out here with Darren Clarke or whoever, I just wanted to enjoy the experience. So I tried to stay out of his way and if he wants to ask my anything I’m more than happy to help. I always have time for him.
“He’s a really nice kid. He’s got the right attitude to do well, that’s the most important thing. You see loads of kids with a lot of talent and they can do a lot, but if they don’t have the right attitude and the right work ethic it can only take you so far.
“But I feel like he’s got his head screwed on and he’s obviously brought up the right way. That’ll really serve him well as he hopefully progresses in the game and goes from strength-to-strength.”
And now close to being nearly 10-years older than Thomas, McIlroy also remarked to The National that he takes it as a responsilbity to try and play practice rounds with the future stars of the game.
“Whether it’s here with Rayhan or other tournaments, I always try and play practice rounds with some of the guys coming up because I don’t feel it was that long ago that some of the guys were doing it with me,” said McIlroy.
“I feel like it helped me a lot. It’s very easy for me to say to Rayhan, ‘Come and let’s play nine holes’. His game looks in really good shape. He obviously knows this place really well. As long as he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself, goes out and plays his game, he should be fine.”
And when asked what was the best advice he took away from playing alongside McIlroy, Thomas said:
“He gave me a little bit of advice on course management and equipment, and small things to watch out for while standing over the ball,” Thomas said. “But just watching him play and watching that ball fly was an education in itself.”