By Dave Kaplan
Welcome to the club, Justin Thomas!
The 24-year-old captured his first major win and the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday afternoon at Quail Hollow, edging runners-up Patrick Reed, Francesco Molinari, and Louis Oosthuizen by two strokes.
Thomas got off to a bumpy start in his final round, making two bogeys in his opening three holes. However, the Louisville, Kentucky native righted the ship with birdies on the 7th and 9th holes and then sprung to life on the 10th green after watching his ball hang on the lip of the cup for what seemed like an eternity before it finally dropped into the hole for a birdie.
On the 13th hole, Thomas chipped in for birdie from 40 feet to take solo possession of the lead. He then sealed his victory on the 17th hole with his sixth birdie of the day after hitting a 7-iron to 15 feet on the 220-yard par 3!
The former Crimson Tide star ranked first amongst his competitors in both driving distance (327.9 yards) and total birdies for the week (20), and played Quail Hollow’s infamous Green Mile stretch to an impressive score of +1 over the course of his four rounds. And yet, it was the resilience that Thomas showed throughout the week that stands out the most when thinking about his performance.
JT opened the week on Thursday, with a two-over 73 but by Friday, he had roared back into contention with a five-under round of 66. Although he did not carry that momentum into his round on Saturday, Thomas did manage to grind out a 69 after a couple of bogeys on his front nine and finished Moving Day just two strokes back of 54-hole leader, Kevin Kisner. Then, on Sunday, after another tumultuous start, the 2012 Haskins Award winner remained calm and bounced back yet again with five birdies over his final 12 holes — this time to win the tournament!
“I just had an unbelievable calmness throughout the week, throughout the day,” Thomas told the media following the victory. “I just didn’t get flustered. I felt like I kind of kept everything in front of me.”
The same cannot be said about Kisner and Hideki Matsuyama, who both fell apart when the pressure mounted down the stretch.
Kisner, who came into the final round with a one-stroke lead, was even through his first 15 holes. However, the South Carolinian shot himself out of contention when he bogeyed 16 and then double-bogeyed 18 to fall into a tie for 7th with Canada’s Graham DeLaet, who had the best major finish of his professional career on Sunday.
Matsuyama overtook Kisner for the tournament lead on the eighth green, but could not hold onto it for very long. The Japanese superstar bogeyed the 11th, 12th, and 13th and even though he fought back with birdies on 14 and 15, Matsuyama still ended up giving two more shots back down the stretch to finish in a tie for fifth with Rickie Fowler.
Fowler was not able to take home his first major title on Sunday but he did finish the tournament strong with a stretch of four straight birdies on the back nine after shooting an even-par 35 on the front. The Californian now has seven major finishes of fifth place or better over the course of his career but still has no hardware to show for his efforts. He will have to wait until at least next year to try to claim his first.
Oosthuizen was incredibly consistent all week, posting rounds of par or better in each of his four rounds at Quail Hollow en route to tying Reed and Molinari for second place at 6-under. It was the South African’s fourth career runner-up finish at a major and the first of their careers for Reed and Molinari, both of whom had never cracked a Top 5 at a grand slam event before. Nonetheless, Reed was not pleased about how he played the final three holes of the tournament and let reporters know after the round that the runner-up finish offered him essentially zero consolation.
“I couldn’t care less if I finished second or 50th,” Reed said. “I play to win!”
This year, however, it is Thomas who has been doing all the winning.
The young man has racked up four victories on the PGA Tour thus far this season — the most of any of his colleagues — and has to be considered a heavy early favourite for this year’s Player of the Year honours.
If he can stay hot through the playoffs, he might just nab his first career FedEx Cup, too!
Dave Kaplan is a Toronto-based freelance writer and golf fanatic who is sneaky long off the tee. He’s on a crusade to inject a youthful perspective into golf media, especially the broadcast booth. Follow him on Twitter @davykap