PGA – SORTING OUT JUSTIN THOMAS’ HISTORIC RUN

When American golfer Justin Thomas played his first year on the PGA Tour in 2015, he was 21 years old.  He went 0-30.

During his second year on Tour, he won 1 time out of 28 starts (CIMB Classic).

So, I wonder what expectations the now 23-year-old had for himself after he successfully defended his CIMB title in October and went on to the Hawaiian swing.

Surely Thomas didn’t expect to win 2 more times in only his 5th tournament start (SBS Tournament of Champions & Sony Open), go back-to-back, finish in the top ten 4 of 5 events, and break a bunch of records in the process?

Or, did he?

Maybe his peers saw it in him?

For years, there has been serious buzz that Thomas, a close friend of Jordan Spieth’s, was on the cusp of breaking through.

In 2009, when Thomas was 16, he became the 3rd youngest player to make the cut at the Wyndham Championship on the PGA Tour and finished 2nd in the US Junior Amateur a year later.

In college at Alabama, Thomas won 6 times for the Crimson Tide and was on the 2013 national championship team.

When he turned pro in 2013, he won his very 1st event at the 2014 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship on the Web.com Tour and finally earned his PGA Tour card in 2014 for the 2015 season.

Well, now, early into the 3rd season of his PGA career, some are questioning if we are “witnessing the birth of another American superstar”.

But I wonder – is it too early to make this kind of statement about Thomas?

The Facts

1 – Thomas started the 2016-17 season by winning 3 of the 5 events he’s played and he won each by at least 3 shots.

  • Only 2 others in history have done this: Johnny Miller (twice) and Tiger Woods (three times).
  • Thomas became the first player since Johnny Miller in 1975 with 3 wins by 3+ shots in the first 5 starts of the season.

2 – Two of Thomas’ wins this season were back-to-back.

  • He became only the third player in the last 30 years to win in consecutive weeks at 23 years of age or younger (Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy).
  • First to win back-to-back weeks by 3+ shots since Tiger Woods at the 2009 Buick Open & WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
  • Only 1 other player has won at Kapalua & Waialae back to back (Ernie Els in 2003).

3 – Thomas opened the Sony Open with a 59 in the first round.

  • He became the eighth player in PGA Tour history to break 60;
  • He became the youngest player to break 60;
  • Only the second player to shoot 59 with a bogey on the scorecard;
  • Only the second player to make an eagle on the 18th hole to shoot 59.

4 – Thomas broke the record for lowest 36-hole score in Tour history (123).

  • He shot a six-under 64 during his 2nd round at the Sony Open combined with his historic 59.
  • The previous mark was 124 held by 3 players, most recently Jason Day at the 2015 BMW Championship.

5 – Thomas tied the record for lowest 54-hole score on Tour in history (188).

  • With his five under 65 during his 3rd round at the Sony Open, he combined for 188.
  • Steve Stricker also shot 188 through 3 rounds at the 2010 John Deere Classic. 

6 – Thomas broke the record for lowest 72-hole score in Tour history (253).

  • He shot a 65 in his final round at the Sony Open, combing for 253.
  • The record was previously held by Tommy Armour III with a 254 in 2003 at the Valero Texas Open.

7 – Thomas has won 4 times on the PGA Tour before the age of 24.

  • Only Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson have achieved this.

Ball Go Far

One of the reasons Thomas been so successful this season is his ability to hit the bar faaaaar.

During his 3rd round at Kapalua, he hit a drive 348-yards at the 555 yard 15th hole.   And, then he clubbed it 404 yards at the 17th.  He also led all players in Strokes Gained: Off the tee that week.

Last year at the WGC-Bridgestone, Thomas hit a 413-yard drive at the par-5 16th hole during his second round.  It was the longest drive of the year on Tour.

When asked recently how someone his size (5’10, 145 lbs) has that kind of power he said, “I have no clue”.

Interestingly, when Thomas gave an interview to Golf Digest in March 2016, he pined for the kind of length that Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Jamie Lovemark or Tony Finau can put down.  Perhaps 308.5 yards on average is fine for him to start 2017?

Thomas’ real bread and butter in 2017, though, has been his putting.

This past week, he was ranked 7th in Strokes Gained Putting compared to 2016 when he finished 131st overall and 95th in 2015.

During his Golf Digest interview last year, Thomas realized the value in “making the putt”.  He said his experience competing in putting contests with Jordan Spieth and other players back in his teen years helped improve his game in this area.

Legacy

After his win at the Sony Open last week, Thomas told reporters, “It’s definitely the best [golf] of my career.  I definitely haven’t shown the world my best golf.  I haven’t even shown the world great golf, or consistent, great golf.”

Hmm, I think he just did.

Thomas had a combined 4 eagles and 51 birdies at Kapalua & WaialaeIncredible.  He also swept the Hawaiian swing and set multiple records for low rounds.

If that isn’t his “best”, what are we in store for next??

He predicted last year that “winning at [Augusta National] is a dream that could very much happen for me.  That course is perfect for me.”

It has taken him a few years to realize his tremendous talent, but I think we may see Thomas in April with a green jacket on.

Or, at least within the next few years.

When someone goes on a run like Thomas has this season, normal people just don’t do that.

This kid has something special and he’s harnessing it right now.

Yeah, I think he earned the right for “superstar” speculation.

 

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