JT's 'terrible' week has happy ending

By Rex HoggardJanuary 16, 2017, 5:01 am

HONOLULU – If this began as the worst week of Justin Thomas’ life, just imagine what a good week would look like.

To be completely accurate, following Alabama’s loss in Monday’s national championship game Thomas tweeted, “Without a doubt most upset I've ever been in my life. Just hate to see those guys lose that game after a great season. Congrats to Clemson.”

That he was less than 24 hours removed from his third PGA Tour victory, a three-stroke gem at the SBS Tournament of Champions, was reason to dismiss Thomas’ musings as a heat-of-the-moment lapse. That he was less than seven days away from his second consecutive appointment with a victory lei only served to highlight the emotional ebb and flow of his fortnight in Hawaii.

Even after he opened with an 11-under 59 to become just the seventh player in PGA Tour history to post a sub-60 round, the Crimson Tide’s loss lingered.

“We talked about it all week,” said Trey Mullinax, Thomas’ roommate for the week on Oahu and a former teammate at Alabama. “It wasn’t until solid Wednesday, both of us had a hard time with that. Deep down it was about Wednesday until he was fully over it.”

In fact, it was probably all the way to the starting bell on Thursday before Thomas’ mind was able to wrest free from the heavy thoughts of Alabama’s loss.

But they faded quickly.

He chipped in for eagle from 34 yards at his first hole of the week (No. 10), rolled in a bookend 15-footer for eagle to complete his historic opening round and never looked back.

For the week, Thomas matched the first-round 18-hole Tour scoring record (Paul Goydos is the only other player to begin a tournament with a 59), broke the 36-hole record (123), tied the 54-hole mark (188) and closed his week with a birdie at the 18th for a final-round 65 and 27-under 253 total, which eclipsed the circuit’s 72-hole standard.

But it was another footnote in history that Thomas spent the better part of Sunday morning mulling. Told on the eve of the final round that no player had ever lost a lead of seven or more strokes the noise became deafening.

“I was more nervous teeing off today then I was in the other [wins],” said Thomas, who won for the third time in his last four Tour starts and his fourth big league tilt. “I had to turn off Twitter, I couldn't look anymore. It was just like, no one has ever lost a seven-shot lead, no one has ever lost a seven-shot lead. I'm like, I go out and play OK, a bad break here and there, if someone shoots 9 under, I lose.”

Thomas said he planned to play the final round with a “smart aggressive” approach, and his first nine holes, a bogey, two birdies and six pars, certainly qualified.

With his lead trimmed to five strokes, however, Thomas delivered with a grit that even Mason Crosby, the Green Bay kicker who deep sixed the Dallas Cowboys just as the leaders were making the turn in Hawaii, would be proud of.

He birdied the 11th hole to go six ahead, added another at No. 12 to jump eight clear and when he birdied the 14th hole he took a staggering nine-shot advantage. By the time he made his way up the 18th fairway it wasn’t the field that Thomas was thinking about, it was the 72-hole record.

“I was telling [caddie Michael Greller] out there, honestly it felt like we were playing a different tournament. I honestly felt like I was trying to win the tournament for second place,” smiled Jordan Spieth, who closed with a 63 to finish alone in third place. “JT is just pretty unbelievable what he's doing right now. He's got full control of his game, full confidence, and he's executing under pressure.”

In a twist to the duo’s friendship, a creative jokester turned the sign around marking Spieth’s parking spot at Kapalua last week and scribbled “Golden Child,” which is Spieth’s nickname on Tour. Some believe the most likely culprit was Thomas, although he hasn’t taken credit for the gag.

After playing eight rounds in Hawaii in 49 under to become the first player to claim the Aloha Slam since Ernie Els in 2003, it is now Thomas whose turning everything he touches to gold.

Like the other members of the high school class of 2011, a growing list that includes Spieth and Daniel Berger, Thomas has never wanted for confidence. He always knew he was capable of this kind of golf, vividly envisioned joining Spieth and the other members of the game’s elite atop the marquee, but until he beat Hideki Matsuyama, arguably the hottest player in the world at the time, at last fall’s CIMB Classic he was somewhat lost in the mix of up-and-coming players.

“I've always felt like I had the game to do so,” said Thomas, who moved to eighth in the world. “You can't expect wins or you can't be like, look, I'm going into this event and I should win this. It's more of just like, I'm playing well enough, if I manage everything well and I'm smart out there, I should have a chance to win.”

Both Thomas’ caddie Jimmy Johnson and his father, Mike, have seen the transition over the last few months from anxious prodigy to a player at ease with the spotlight and pressure that comes with winning.

“His confidence is crazy, he’s more comfortable in that situation now and his patience level is much better,” Mike Thomas said. “He expected to win before, but that’s easy to say when you haven’t won, but once you start winning it gets easier.”

As he celebrated with the Waialae members late into a balmy January night, that gutting loss in the national championship game seemed a lifetime away; but it turns out Clemson’s upset wasn’t the only lowlight of Thomas’ week. Each night he and Mullinax would pass the time playing gin.

“I’ve been kicking his butt. I’m the only person kicking his butt this week,” Mullinax laughed.

So, it turns out there was room for improvement.

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.


Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.