Aug
14
2017
JUSTIN TIME: Thomas breaks through at season’s last major
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Championship

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The PGA Championship felt like a slog-fest for most of the week (or, dare I say, a poor man’s U.S. Open?) — super slick and firm greens, thunderstorms, weather delays, slow play, ultra long (after more rain Friday and overnight) tough scoring conditions — but then the last groups made the turn at Quail Hollow on Sunday, and suddenly, the fireworks and the drama broke out.

At the end of the day, Justin Thomas separated himself from the pack, hitting some gutsy shots and stroking in key putts, along with a couple of moments that felt like divine intervention or tacit approval from the golf gods.

But until the Thomas’ 71st hole, the Wanamaker Trophy was up for grabs with quite a cast of characters, twists and turns, some heartbreakers, and plenty of feel-good moments. At one point, there were five players– Thomas, Francesco Molinari, Hideki Matsuyama, Kevin Kisner and Chris Stroud — tied for the lead at five-under.

It’s hard to say which shot was the most pivotal, but looking back, the chip-in on the 13th was a huge momentum and adrenaline boost, Then sealed the deal with birdie putt from about eight feet after a gutsy tee shot on the par-3 17th to take a two-shot lead with one to play.

Despite a bogey on the 18th, JT still secured the Wanamaker Trophy for his first major victory by two shots over Francesco Molinari, Patrick Reed and Louis Oosthuizen.

Perhaps the most auspicious moment for the 24-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, occurred on the par-5 10th After pulling his drive into the trees, the ball bounced about and eventually made its way back into the fairway.

“I thought it might be our day, like it was Jordan (Spieth’s) at Hartford (on the first playoff hole at the Travelers Championship),” said Jimmy Johnson, Thomas’ caddie. “I was like, that might be an element, you never know. But you have to have good things happen to you to win golf tournaments.”

Indeed. Everyone knows when it’s “your” week, you’re going to get some fortuitous bounces and breaks. I mean, obviously it comes down to the best player, but there’s a component of luck, as well. After all, it’s effing golf.

“10 was kind of funny. I was joking with Jimmy because I hit a drive, I mean, obviously I pulled that drive,” said Thomas. “But me being able to take it over that bunker, I kind of need to skirt that tree to get it up there, and pretty far, too, because it runs out on the right.

“I hit a drive pretty similar on Friday, I think it was. I had just pulled it. It was three or four yards left of the fairway, going to be fine. Hit that same tree and kicked about 30 yards in the trees. So I feel like that tree kind of owed me one.

“And I talk to my ball a lot and any time it’s going somewhere, I didn’t wish it would, I probably am saying, “get lucky” or something. And I said that in the air, “Get lucky, just spit it out for me, please.” And it spit it out, and right in the middle of the fairway, I told Jimmy, “That’s why you ask.”

I’m guilty of talking to my ball a lot, so I’m with JT on this.

But then on his birdie putt, it appeared as if the golf gods gave Thomas their nod of approval with another act of divine intervention when his ball hung on the lip for at least five seconds before the smallest breath of wind — or simply gravity — willed it into the cup.

Incredible! You can’t make this stuff up. That’s when you really couldn’t help but feel like it was JT’s week.

“The putt was pretty funny, too, because I didn’t even see it go in,” said Thomas. “I was more so looking at Jimmy, asking, ‘How does it not go in?’ It was a weird read because the grain was in and off the right in the beginning, and it looked like a pretty straight putt, and then the second half it was in off the left. So I kind of had it — I played it straight. We had it going a little left and a little right and it just never went right. It kept going left.

“And as soft as it was going, I felt like the grain had to take it. And honestly, I swear, when it got there, I was like, “This ball has to go in. There’s no way that it can stay there.” I threw a little fit to try to see what would happen, and it just was — and I was upset that I had a really easy up-and-down and maybe let the opportunity go.

“The gravity took over and the roar was pretty loud, so that was pretty cool.”

Indeed.


 

A few notes and observations:

*JT highlight reel:

*Perhaps now people will definitely stop referring to JT as “Jordan Spieth’s good friend.” It’s super cool that these two won back-to-back majors. You couldn’t script it better. Spieth was still 23 when he secured the Claret Jug a couple of weeks ago at the Open, but regardless, we have two straight major winners 24 or younger. The last time that happened? Bobby Jones and Gene Sarezen in 1923. Not bad company!

This picture is everything.

jordan spieth and justin thomas

Life comes at you fast? Doesn’t work in the meme/internet slang form, but it certainly feels like it!

https://twitter.com/StephanieWei/status/896882135595982848

*Of course, Spieth, Rickie Fowler and JT’s roommate Bud Cauley were waiting for him by the 18th green to congratulate him:

“It’s awesome and I think they know I would do the same for them. It’s a cool little friendship we have. I know Rickie was a couple groups in front and Jordan was probably through nine or something when I finished.

“I just didn’t believe Bud Cauley stayed around. He’s one of my best friends. We live together in Florida. I was about ten minutes from going to tee off and he was walking off to go sign his scorecard. So he hung around for an entire 18 holes just to stick around, and not knowing what could happen.

“But I think that kind of shows, you know, where the game is right now, where all of us are. I mean, we obviously all want to win. We want to beat the other person. But if we can’t win, we at least want to enjoy it with our friends. I think that we’ll all be able to enjoy this together, and I know it’s going to make them more hungry, just like it did me, for Jordan at the British, or whatever you want to say.”


 

*Related: It was another major bummer for Rickie, and while I’m sure he and JT were taking a jet home together, it’s still cool that he stuck around and even posed for pictures. I mean, if you’re Rickie and you’ve been on Tour for a fair number of years longer than Spieth and JT and the guy without a major but a bunch of close calls, it has to feel kind of crappy. I’m not saying that he isn’t genuinely happy for his friends — I think he truly is 100%. But imagine being in the hunt again and then sticking around and even happily posing for pictures with JT and the trophy?

https://twitter.com/PGAChampionship/status/896889079253676033

Basically, I’m saying it reveals a lot about Rickie as person, and now I really, really hope his time comes very soon. I’ve always known Rickie to be a genuinely good individual and I didn’t think he could do anything that made me respect him even more than I already do, but he managed to once again.


 

*This is also related, JT was asked if he felt frustrated watching Spieth win all these majors. He was very candid with his answer and I think everyone can relate to what he said. I know I can, but I also know it doesn’t mean you’re not truly happy for that person — it’s how you conduct yourself and deal with it going forward that matters. In other words, don’t act like a jealous, petty asshole and work harder and/or do what is in your own power to the place you want to be.

“Frustration probably isn’t the right word. Jealousy definitely is (laughter). I mean, there’s no reason to hide it. I would say anybody, they are jealous that I won. I was jealous that Sergio won; that Brooks won; that Jordan won. I wanted to be doing that, and I wasn’t.

“There’s only four of them in a year, and to be one of them, a Major Champion, is really cool. It’s just nice to have one, you know. But at the same time, I mean, honestly, it was weird but it kind of calmed me down this morning. Like I said, I was confident, but I just — I was thinking about it. I was like, man, there are some unbelievable players out here that have only won one major and it took them awhile to do it.

“There’s no reason for me to hang my head today. If I give it all I have, if I stay in the moment, stick to the game plan and don’t give any shots away for mental mistakes, and I don’t get it done, then I don’t. But for some reason that calmed me down, knowing that a lot of other players haven’t done it. To win a major at 24, is pretty cool saying it. Yeah, obviously it was an unbelievable week and experience.”

 

 


 

*As you may recall, Thomas was in contention at the U.S. Open, but faltered in the final round and finished a disappointing T9. Then, he went through a rough patch and missed three straight cuts before finishing T28 in the 76-player, no-cut WGC event last week.

The major difference (no pun intended) I saw between the Justin Thomas on Sunday at Erin Hills and the Justin Thomas at Quail Hollow was his attitude and demeanor. He admittedly shows his frustration on the course and sometimes acts a bit petulant, which was on display at Erin Hills. When he walked off 72nd hole, I could see the steam coming out of his ears.

But this time around, he was almost serene, even when he bogeyed the first hole. It looked like he really wanted to get pissed off and frustrated, but then he checked himself.

“(The first hole), that was a bummer, because obviously the first tee shot, I would say, is the most nervous a lot of us are in the day,” said Thomas. “That’s a big moment, second to the last group, major, great chance to win. And I absolutely just blistered a drive, exactly. I picked up my tee and thought it was perfect, and it was in the bunker. It’s like 350 to the bunker and I didn’t think I could get there.

“I was a little bummed to walk up there and see that. I mean, I had an easy bunker shot, that first one. I just didn’t have a very good lie. And I was just trying to chunk and run it, and obviously thinned it. I mean, I couldn’t — through four shots on that hole, I pretty much couldn’t have drawn up a worse start to my Sunday at the PGA Championship.

“I felt great with my putter all week. I just, I stayed calm. I was like, I could still knock this in and if I don’t, I have 17 more holes. It’s not like this course, being two back, I had to go shoot 6- or 7-under. I knew 2- or 3-under had a pretty good chance. After rolling that in, it just kind of calmed me down and kept me going.”


*More on calmness and an anecdote:

“I definitely feel like I was. I don’t know, I just had an unbelievable calmness throughout the week, throughout the day. I hate to say — I hate to kind of admit this, but I never — I’m never one to, I’m kind of superstitious and weird about the night before, or when I get in contention, about people saying stuff. You know, like, oh, let’s go out and get it done tomorrow, let’s go do this.

“I had just the most comforting, easygoing — I truly felt like I was going to win. I remember my girlfriend was supposed to fly out at about 7:00 and I was like, “You need to change your flight to later, because I don’t know, I just feel like I don’t want you to miss this. I feel like I’m going to get it done.”

“She knows the first — she’s the first person to tell you that I don’t want to talk about golf when I get in that situation. So I don’t know, I just was very confident.

“I mean, I’m sure my dad and Jimmy could tell you the same thing. I just didn’t get flustered. I felt like I kind of kept everything in front of me. I know how hard doubles are to make up out here, so I tried to avoid those and was able to make a lot of birdies. It was great.”

I don’t know many golfers (at a high level, especially in competition) that aren’t superstitious. Even the most chill have some OCD behavior patterns, with perhaps a few exceptions. I was super OCD up until my mid-20s and actively worked on it. (These days, I often wish I still exhibited some of strong OCD tendencies of my youth.)


*JT’s dad did, in fact, tell us that his son was in the moment and stayed patient:

“I just said, ‘You’re leading (in driving or scoring?) and you’re second in birdies,” said Mike Thomas when asked if he gave his son a pep talk. “If you make a bogey, it’s not going to hurt you. Just be smart, don’t do something stupid out there.’

“He was swinging good at it.. You’re gonna make a bogey — whether it’s the 1st hole or the 15th hole…

“I could see it in his eyes early in the round; his body language was just there.”

*So did his caddie Jimmy Johnson.

“What he’s learned, he’s gotta play his game and not force it; play a little smarter,” said Jimmy. “He was trying too hard maybe. I don’t think he was so much frustrated, but just trying too hard. He just let his potential go through (today).”


*JT on feeling calm — and literally almost choking on 17:

“I was a lot more calm than I thought I would be, to be honest. Just because I know how I’ve felt when I’ve had a chance to win just a regular TOUR event. Any TOUR event is a big deal to win, but a major is obviously another level.

“I was a lot more calm than I thought I would be. I thought I would be very, very shaky. I remember at one point, I looked at my hand and it was a little bit shaky. But I mean, that’s why you play. You know, you play for those nerves.

“As funny as it is, I tried to eat a lot today and drink a lot. Obviously it was beyond hot. But walking to 17 green, I had some snacks in my bag and I was eating it and I literally almost choked. Like I started coughing and I was like, you’ve got to be — like am I really going to choke; is this a sign to come? I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s funny, the things that you think about, you know, when you get in those situations.

“Once I got on, I walked up 18 green after I hit my second shot. I was kind of walking to see, for my third shot, and I saw Kis had bogeyed 17. Had a three-shot lead. And although that rough is tough, I knew I could gouge it on the green. But once I got it on the green, I had a pretty good idea I could scrape it in from there.”


 

*Of all the feel-good moments on Sunday, this one takes the cake by far: Justin’s dad Mike Thomas, the PGA Head Professional at Harmony Landing Golf Course in Goshen, Kentucky, was the first to congratulate his son.

https://twitter.com/StephanieWei/status/896899376940949504

“Since I knew he had this, I said, ‘That’s f*****g unbelievable,'” said Mike when asked what he told JT in that embrace. “It’s the PGA Championship, I’m a PGA member, my dad is a PGA member, so it’s a special event.”

Thomas is the eighth PGA Champion who is the son of a PGA Professional. Justin’s grandfather, Paul, is an 85-year-old retired PGA Life Member who lives in Columbus, Ohio. Paul joined the PGA of America in 1956.

The first call Justin made after he won was to his grandfather.

“He just said, ‘You’re something else, and this is the first of many,’ said Justin when asked about their conversation.

“I love my grandparents, I love my grandpa so much. I’ve just spent so many times with him on the golf course. He’s watched me play and win so many junior golf tournaments. It would have been great if he could have been here. I mean, I understand he couldn’t. But I’m just glad that he could watch it and we can share this together. I know we’ll have some fun, you know, when I see him again, hopefully soon.”


That would be a good note to end on, but just a couple of highlights from JT’s stats rankings for the week.

–1st birdies (20)
–T1 double bogeys (0)
–4th strokes gained putting
–11th strokes gained tee to green
–1st strokes gained total
–T62 driving accuracy
–1st driving distance
–T17 greens in regulation

Not surprised to see he wasn’t the most accurate in driving (62 out of 75 players that made the cut) and first in driving distance.


Congrats to JT and his family and friends! Hope he’s celebrating in style.

https://twitter.com/JustinThomas34/status/896931839276961792