January 31, 2017
CLARE BODEL: Good morning, everyone. Here we are for the first media conference of the week. We have with us Curtis Luck and Rayhan Thomas, the two amateurs part of the field here at Emirates Golf Club this week.
Curtis, fantastic year for you last year. You won the US Amateur Championship and gave yourself an exemption for a couple of big tournaments this year; No. 2 ranked amateur golfer in the world and here you are in Dubai taking part of this tournament with a fantastic field. How does it feel? Are you looking forward to this week?
CURTIS LUCK: Yeah, very excited to get the week underway. Played my first nine holes yesterday. Just played the back nine and the course is unbelievable. You can definitely tell it's probably the most established course in the UAE. Lots of nicely-grown trees out there, which was a little different to Abu Dhabi. And it's a little bit more tree-lined, which is nice.
Yeah, just really excited to get underway this week and it's been, yeah, great so far in Dubai.
CLARE BODEL: And Rayhan, you find yourself here after topping the MENA Golf Tour Amateur Order of Merit, and you're the highest-ranked amateur player in there, just still a teenager and you're a local here. How does it feel to be playing in this tournament, such a fantastic tournament in the Middle East on your doorstep?
RAYHAN THOMAS: Yeah, I've been wanting to play this event for awhile now. Since I'm at least 12, I've been coming out to watch this event, and it's great to be here at home. Yeah, it's been great.
I think through the MENA Tour, it's allowed me to play this event and a few other big events this year. Yeah, I know this place like the back of my hand. Hopefully that serves me well this week.
Q. Rayhan, I'll start with you. Any kind of pressure that you are feeling? Because this is almost like your home open.
RAYHAN THOMAS: Yeah, a little bit. You always put a little pressure on yourself because you expect something more, but as long as I just play my best and stick to my routines, I'll be fine. But yeah, there's always a little bit of pressure.
Q. When you go into a tournament like this, do you have any kind of expectations or are you just don't think about --
RAYHAN THOMAS: I try not to give myself expectations, but you always expect something. But no, yeah, just playing my best. That's all I expect from myself.
Q. And how important will Abu Dhabi be to prepare for this week?
RAYHAN THOMAS: Abu Dhabi was good, good for confidence, just to be around those guys. It's always a bit intimidating when you play a European Tour event. It's great. It's good to play in those conditions and sort of get used to those quicker greens and thicker rough, which you don't get much around here.
Q. You've played this course many times obviously, but is it markedly different this week because it's a European Tour event? Are there some things about it surprising you?
RAYHAN THOMAS: Yeah, when I play, it's usually around July, August, summertime, slightly going into wintertime. But the course is very different from when I played because when I play, the greens are running on 8 and the rough's down and it's much easier. And we're playing off the blue tees, as well. Yeah, it's very different from when I usually play it.
Q. Does it feel like you're playing a different course?
RAYHAN THOMAS: A little bit. Off those back tees, suddenly you think you can't reach that bunker. Suddenly you can't carry the water, for sure.
Q. Both of you, playing in a European Tour event like this with a great field, obviously Tiger is here, as well, this week. Do you feel a different sense this week, because Tiger is here and other people are here, as well?
CURTIS LUCK: Yeah, I guess it's pretty cool to float around the range and see some big names out there doing their thing. But ultimately we've earned our spot in this field, so there's no reason why we should be intimidated.
I'm pretty comfortable in saying that I feel like I can compete at this level, so hopefully that comes through this week.
RAYHAN THOMAS: For sure. Being around some big names, it's great for me to put myself in this position for the future, and hopefully I'll in four or five years be out here with these guys. It's good to get comfortable soon.
Q. Just to follow up on that, where does Tiger rank for you in terms of guys you've looked up to or guys you aspire to be in this game?
CURTIS LUCK: I think it's hard not to say that someone, that starting when I was ten, he was kind of the guy that we were all watching in majors and US PGA TOUR events, just killing it I guess, and so it's hard not to admire him. He's always been one of my favourite players. So hopefully he can get back to his old ways and start dominating again.
RAYHAN THOMAS: Yeah, for sure, he's a huge role model for me. I've probably watched every major of his on YouTube. But no, I look at him as one of the greatest athletes of all time for sure.
Q. And have you watched him here?
RAYHAN THOMAS: Sort of, about 200 yards away because I couldn't get close to him. Yeah, I've not been able to watch him that much. It's just too many people watching.
Q. You said you'd been coming here watching it since you were 12. What stands out? What memories do you have from the tournament?
RAYHAN THOMAS: Just like sort of being in the clinics with I remember there was Pete Cowen, and I think Lee Westwood was there asking some silly questions and Pete giving me some stick about it. But for sure, just walking around and being in that atmosphere, and suddenly you're inside the ropes; it's a bit different.
Q. You talked about in Abu Dhabi that you needed to come away and straighten out your driver a little bit. Wondering what you've done in the week between?
RAYHAN THOMAS: Yeah, added a bit of loft to my driver, so just get a little more height on it. It's getting a bit -- not enough spin to stay in the air. Sort of just giving me a big left miss. So that's pretty much it. Nothing much has changed otherwise.
Q. Whenever we talk about you, we hear your name, there's always that hashtag, #fearthebeard, and you have a clean-shaven look. I hope you have not lost any of your MoJo for golf by just doing that?
CURTIS LUCK: No, I'm a little bit more aerodynamic this week, but I'm sure it will be back in a few days. Fortunately I've got some good beard-growing genes, and it doesn't take long to come back. (Laughter).
Yeah, it's a hashtag I'll keep with me this week nonetheless.
Q. Can I ask you about your friendship with Ian Poulter? These last few days, you guys have really been together the last seven, eight days, from whatever I've got from your and his Twitter feed. What have you tried to learn from somebody like him, and what did you think of him? He's such a kind of a legend on The European Tour because of all his exploits?
CURTIS LUCK: Yeah, I was fortunate enough to meet Terry, his caddie at the US Am last year because he was caddying for one of my best mates in the US.
And then we, I think three months down the track, I ended up playing with Ian in Macau, and I had a mutual friend in Terry, and we kind of set ourselves up for dinner and we seemed to get along really well. Since then when we see each other, it's great to catch up.
Last week we spent pretty much the entire week playing with each other, just playing matches, practicing. We went down to the Yas Marina circuit and drove Formula 3s, which was good fun, as well. But yeah, he's a great role model. Obviously he's a pretty exciting guy. He's kind of known for certain things, certain attributes. He does what he wants and he kind of says how -- says what he feels.
But I think he's a perfect role model in the sense that, you know, he probably wasn't considered at a young age to be an absolute extraordinary golfer, and he's just dug deep and worked hard and it's paid off for him. So it's really cool to see where he's gone and hear some of his stories.
Q. And what about guys like Jason Day, who is the world No. 1 golfer? You, coming from Australia, how does he -- how do you look up to him, and the struggles that he has been through, all legendary stories now?
CURTIS LUCK: Yeah, Jason obviously has an amazing career. Adam Scott is another one that I was fortunate enough to play with Adam a few months ago. Both I think really well known for being great guys out on Tour, and yeah, I think just to see how Jason dominated in 2015 and 2016 is like really inspiring for any Australian junior or amateur coming up through the ranks. It's really cool to see how he's gone and I'm sure he'll stay up there for awhile.
Q. A similar question for you. On the MENA Tour, Darren Clarke is a big presence on that tour, but now that you're stepping into European Tour events; there anyone that you've sort of been drawn to or struck up a friendship with?
RAYHAN THOMAS: Not really. S.S.P. Chowrasia, both from the same country, got that little bit of a connection. But definitely been around Anirban this week, just because you're from the same country, you sort of gel a bit better, but apart from that, everyone is friendly out here.
Q. Is it the dumb thing to go up to the more experienced players and ask for tips?
RAYHAN THOMAS: No, I don't think so. I think if -- went up to Darren Clarke and played with Peter Uihlein, still a young guy, but sort of a veteran on this tour. I think he's been here for three or four years. For sure, played with Rickie last week, as well. No, I don't think it's a bad thing to talk to those guys.
Q. You were with Curtis during the Pacific Amateur, and for you, I'm sure he's the kind of role model, as well, having done so well, world No. 2 in amateurs, Masters invite, Tour exploits. Have you tried to feed off him or tried to speak to him and get something out of him?
RAYHAN THOMAS: Yeah, Curtis is definitely a role model to me because of where he is right now. And his game is only great and he can compete at a very high level and it only get much better going forward.
We spoke on Sunday, or Saturday, about just the Amateur stuff, playing in the US, and he seems very helpful and he's a great guy. So I wish him the best of luck this year and moving forward.
Q. We saw recently that you've linked up with IMG, so just wanted to know what that means for your future and obviously a great sort of foundation for your pro career.
CURTIS LUCK: Yeah, so I'm at a point where I need to start I guess setting myself up for when I turn professional. So the first step was to find someone to do a good job of managing me.
I've gone with IMG because I like the family-orientation of the company. I feel wherever I go, no matter if it's Europe, US, everyone's got a good relationship with everyone within that company. I think that's their best at constitute.
I don't think I have to say a whole lot for the players they have got. I mean, it speaks for themselves with Kaymer, Stenson, all those guys. But yeah, it's really important for me for when I turn professional to plan it out right. I've got some really great opportunities, and it would be a sad case if I were to waste them by not playing well.
So they are doing a really good job of helping me through that process and hopefully I get it right and can take advantage of it.
Q. Is the US your goal, the PGA TOUR? Is that where you see yourself playing?
CURTIS LUCK: Yeah, ultimately. But you know what, I've had an unbelievable experience thus far playing in Europe. And from what I know, talking to friends that play on this tour, it's a really good tour. It's a lot of fun. There's a really good camaraderie amongst the players.
I know that in the US, it's more, you go to it by yourself; it's a bit more individual. Look, I definitely want to be playing in the US but at the same time, I don't think I would be having any issues playing out here, either.
Q. Have you set a date for when you're going to turn pro?
CURTIS LUCK: Yeah, just with the opportunities that have risen with the US Am, and the Asian Am victory, looks I'll be turning pro straight after the Masters.
Q. What about you?
RAYHAN THOMAS: No, not even thought about it yet. I've still got to finish school first in just about two years, and then decide after that, 2019.
Q. For all your talent, the real factors that you owe a lot to the MENA Tour to reach this place, your rankings. What does the MENA Tour mean to you? How are you looking at your association with the Tour for the next couple of years, or till 2019 when you turn pro?
RAYHAN THOMAS: For sure, the MENA Tour has been great, playing there since I was 13 -- 2013 I played my first few events. It's been a great place to hone my skills and build some confidence. From 2013, trying to make the amateur cut, going into my room and like waiting and just trying to look at that, keep refreshing the page, to now contending on that tour.
It's the same now with The European Tour. Hopefully I will get better as the years go through. Looking forward to the MENA Tour. They are doing a great job. They are expanding and hopefully I'll be with them all the way to the end.
CLARE BODEL: Thanks, everyone.
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