PGA Championship is Fitting and Perfect Major Stage for Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas completed a watershed major season for the United States with a brilliant victory in the 99th PGA Championship on Sunday at Quail Hollow, fulling the significant potential that has long been evident. Captivatingly aggressive with his play, universally liked by his closest peers, and visibly demonstrative on the course, the 24-year-old is both a perfect champion for this social media age of GIFs and Memes, but also for this particular event.
It couldn’t have been more fitting a winner for the PGA of America – organisers of the last men’s major of the year – who will have been thrilled to have been delivered a new figurehead who most closely reflects the principles they dearly hold. Son and grandson of PGA Professionals, Thomas joins a line of players who have followed their fathers into the game and seen their name etched on the visibly domineering but nonetheless historic Wanamaker Trophy.
Doug Ford, Jack Burke Jr, Dave Marr, Raymond Floyd, Davis Love III, Rich Beem, and Keegan Bradley were brought up in an environment by those tasked with bringing the game to the masses. The Thomas Family can be added to that list of dynasties. When it comes to the often empty and meaningless cliché of “growing the game”, the success of golf’s freshest champion is significantly testament to the two most important facilitators of that objective. Parents and PGA Pros.
Based at Harmony Landing Country Club for over a quarter of a century, Justin’s father and coach Mike has been a popular figure within golf circles throughout the state of Kentucky and nationwide, having served on the PGA Board and been an official starter of the championship during that tenure. One generation removed is grandfather Paul, who remains a close confident of his grandson, and was a long-standing professional in Ohio in addition to playing on the circuit, including being paired once with the legendary Arnold Palmer on the Champions Tour.
This is a golfing patriarchy of the most classic form. Passing the game through each stage of the family, and it has now reached the most satisfying of crescendos with the young man following in the footsteps of Brooks Koepka and close friend Jordan Spieth by completing a trifecta of grand titles for young Americans. Jim Furyk must be thrilled by his trio of big stage players ahead of the Ryder Cup next September in France. It’s an exciting period for golf across the Atlantic.
When it comes to the present, however, the headlines will be dominated by this charismatic twentysomething from Kentucky, who can recall picking up the signature of Jack Nicklaus during the PGA at Valhalla in 2000. Thomas was only seven then, but it’s yet another story that underlines the framework that golf has consistently played in his life, and why this major – often viewed as the least memorable and prestigious – was the most appropriate of platforms for his breakthrough.
“The PGA had a special place in my heart," the champion said afterwards. "Maybe a special drive, I guess you could say. I want to win every tournament I play in, I want to win every major, but this was really cool for this to be my first one. To have my dad here. And grandpa watching at home. I was able to talk to him and that was pretty cool. It's a great win for the family and a moment we'll never forget."
"Well done son" pic.twitter.com/Gl9UYFY51W— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) August 13, 2017
Pre-championship talk had been dominated by Grand Slam chasing Spieth and Quail Hollow specialist Rory McIlroy, but Thomas made this week his own following a dramatic final day in North Carolina that saw an eclectic litany of contenders rise and fall under the weight of pressure and expectation on the back-nine of 2017’s last opportunity of achieving greatness. Yes, the riches of the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai are to come, but it’s the trophy that matters here in the PGA. The most tangible of prizes befitting the accomplishment of becoming a major champion.
For all his brilliance later in the hour, perhaps the most significant of instances came on the opening hole, when the former Walker Cup player made a crucial putt for bogey after unconvincingly navigating his way between three bunkers of this extremely punishing layout. That save reduced the damage and maintained a sense of positivity after a start that could have easily rekindled unwanted memories from his experience of the final pairing at the U.S. Open in June – when he wilted to a disappointing 75 after electrifying the Wisconsin course with a 63 just a day prior.
Justin and Jordan.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 13, 2017
From minors to majors. ???????? pic.twitter.com/vmcZX4b6BX
That record equalling – at the time - round was an indication of the thrilling brilliance that defines the game of Thomas. Devastatingly powerful off the tee – seemingly disobeying the limits of his relatively diminutive stature – and boasting a deft touch on the greens, he possesses the tools to do anything on the golf course. There are no boundaries, as we’ve seen during his four earlier victories on the PGA Tour – including a 59 on route to dominating January’s Sony Open in Hawaii. Harnessing that ability into the rigid of a questionnaire of a major setup is always a deeper obstacle to be settled, but it’s one he has conquered at the tenth attempt.
He was one-over for the day after three holes – but recovered with birdies on the seventh and ninth. For many watching, the likely indelible memory of this championship will be the par five tenth, where he took advantage of a fortuitous break off the tee to make birdie after the ball had hung on the edge for ten seconds. His reaction was priceless. Perfectly underlining his status as a darling of the Twitter and Instagram world. It was one of those small moments of intangible magic that frequently help to carry the recipient over the line in tightest of pressured situations.
Indeed, at one stage on the back-nine we had five players tied at the summit. Thomas’ dramatic chip-in on the 13th assisted in breaking that deadlock throughout an unlikely barrage of audibly gallery cheers somewhat reminiscent of the echoing roars of Augusta National. Quail Hollow was a rather sombre entity on Saturday, but its spirit had been graciously revived on Sunday.
Facing the bafflingly named Green Mile – an imposingly difficult final stretch – Thomas was faced with one final question to be answered. Could he cross a line that was ominously engineered to trip him up? He empathetically retorted to those murmurs of doubt with a breathtaking approach to the daunting 17th. “One of the best golf shots I ever hit in my life,” he reflected afterwards. Major titles are regularly defined by one shot of greatness. This was his. It was an encapsulation of the swagger, power, and control that characterised Thomas’ performance.
The world number 14 – keenly assisted by veteran caddie Jimmy Johnson – ultimately made a comfortable bogey on the intimidating 18th – the hardest hole of the week – to fulfil a dream with his emotional parents Mike and Jani watching on, not to mention great pals Rickie Fowler and Jordan. As we saw recently at Royal Birkdale after the Texan’s latest glorious bow, these are young men have a bond and share the joy of their success. Grandpa Paul was proudly watching from afar.
Bringing down the curtain on the major season, it was a success for the mother and father who have supported him, the friends who inspired him, but also for the PGA Professionals that bring the game to the masses. For those reasons, Justin Thomas is a champion for this moment. This was his time.
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