Thomas joins the club - the majors club

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2017, 2:11 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There’s no way to prepare for it, no mental exercises to gird yourself for the stomach-churning mix of anticipation and expectation and realization.

There’s no way to know how you’ll react when the crowd is chanting your name. 

And when the Steadicam is a few feet from your face.

And when the unmistakable sensation hits that your heart might jump right out of your chest.

And yet …

Justin Thomas – the occasionally brilliant, often combustible 24-year-old – felt a strange calmness all day Sunday at Quail Hollow.

In fact, he was so calm, and so confident, that he told his girlfriend, Jillian Wisniewski, to change her 6:06 p.m. flight home to Chicago.

“I don’t want you to miss this,” he said. “I feel like I’m going to get it done.”

All it took were two big breaks, a timely chip-in and a career shot for Thomas to conquer the toughest closing stretch in golf, emerge from a five-way tie and capture the 99th PGA Championship.

This was no ordinary first-timer.

“I truly felt like I was going to win,” he said.

There is meaningful golf still to play this year, but the PGA put an exclamation point on a breakout campaign for Thomas, who shot 59, set a U.S. Open scoring record, earned a PGA Tour-best fourth victory of the season and now becomes the favorite for Player of the Year.

“It’s huge for me,” he said. “Who knows what will happen, but it’s just big for my year.”

First-time major winners and Quail Hollow’s treacherous back nine shouldn't mix, like flannel shirts and Charlotte humidity, but Thomas played so expertly that he could afford a few slip-ups on the 72nd hole. After a closing 68, he won at 8-under 276, two shots clear of Patrick Reed, Louis Oosthuizen and Francesco Molinari.

PGA Championship: Scores | Live blog: Day 4 | Full coverage

A week that began with Jordan Spieth’s pursuit of the career Grand Slam ended with one of his close friends joining golf’s young elite.

Spieth and Thomas are obviously tight – remember #SB2K17? – but they’ve long had a friendly and complicated relationship, ever since their junior days. The same age, Spieth was always one step ahead, whether it was a U.S. Junior or an NCAA Championship or a PGA Tour breakthrough or a major title. Irritatingly, Thomas became known mostly as Spieth’s “good buddy.”

Despite capturing four Tour titles, Thomas had yet to escape Spieth's considerable shadow, remaining winless in the category – majors – that mattered most.

“Frustration probably isn’t the right word – jealously definitely is,” he said. “I wanted to be doing that, and I wasn’t.”

At the back of the clubhouse Sunday night, Spieth, who had finished four hours earlier and tied for 28th, sought out and hugged Justin's father, Mike Thomas.

“I’ve known you guys too long,” he said.

“We had to join you,” Thomas replied.

Later, when asked to reflect on the budding rivalry, Mike Thomas conceded: “This is huge. This lets Justin know he can do this.”

Most players require a major heartbreak before they’re ready to win one of their own, and Thomas’ disappointment came two months ago at the U.S. Open. In the third round, he fired a tournament-record, 9-under 63 – sorry, Johnny – to surge into the final pairing, one back of the leader. But with a long wait before his final-round tee time, he admitted to getting caught up in the social-media buzz and then lost his patience after a rough start. He dropped into a tie for ninth at Erin Hills, then missed three consecutive cuts.

Thomas’ week at Quail Hollow began inauspiciously, too, with a 2-over 73, but he moved back into contention with a Friday 66.

It was his Friday 69, however, that won him the PGA. Wayward with his ball-striking, he still managed to play the final 12 holes in 3 under to draw within two shots of third-round leader Kevin Kisner.

Before meeting with the media Saturday night, Thomas headed to the range with his dad, the only swing coach he’s ever had. They worked on Thomas’ body lines with his driver and his cut shots with his irons. They focused on his psyche, too.

“You don’t want to end your day on a negative thought,” he said.

Funny, because Thomas has been criticized in some corners for his on-course comportment, for his emotional outbursts, for his slumped shoulders and club slams. All of the blowback prompted a recent heart-to-heart with his dad.

“We’ve spent time the past year asking, Are you emotional or are you angry? Let’s make a distinction,” Mike said. “He’s 24. He’s going to get more mature, and he showed a lot of maturity this week. [Saturday] was the day that he didn’t play well, and his maturity allowed him to grind out a score.”

That maturity also allowed him to stay in the game Sunday after an unsettling opening hole in the final round, when he bladed his greenside bunker shot and needed to hole a 20-footer for bogey.

“I was a lot more comfortable and calm than I thought I would be,” he said.

Thomas made three birdies around the turn to create a logjam at the top. None was more unlikely than the 10th hole.

Needing to hug the left side to carry the bunker, Thomas’ tee shot crashed into the trees.

“Get lucky,” he begged. “Just spit it out for me, please.”

Out came his ball, into the middle of the fairway. 

“See,” he said, returning the club to caddie Jimmy Johnson. “That’s why you ask.”

Even more pleading was necessary on his birdie putt, which hung on the lip of the cup for 12 seconds.

“I threw a little fit to try and see what would happen,” Thomas said, “and gravity took over.”

Said Johnson: “I thought it might be our day, like that might be an omen. You never know. But you have to have good things happen to you to win a golf tournament.”

And they kept happening, like Thomas’ 40-foot chip-in on 13, busting him out of a five-way tie and suddenly giving him a two-shot cushion.

“Probably the most berserk I’ve ever gotten on the course,” he said.

After a clutch save out of the bunker on 16, Thomas launched a 200-yard 7-iron that never left his target on the watery 17th. His ball landed on the ridge and trickled toward the hole, 15 feet away.

“One of the best shots I’ve ever hit in my life,” Thomas said. “That shot, I’ll never forget that vision in my head.”

Nor will he soon forget the roar that followed when his birdie putt dropped.

Anywhere on dry land was the play on the diabolical 18th hole, and Thomas’ bogey cost him nothing but a three-shot margin of victory.

The symmetry was impossible to ignore. His father, Mike, is a PGA professional (Goshen, Ky.). So is his grandfather, Paul, who was watching at home in Columbus, Ohio, and received the first call from the winner. “You’re something else,” Paul said. “This is the first of many.”

Mike Thomas was the first to greet Justin as he walked off the 18th green, the victory all but secured. Charging toward his only son, arms spread wide, Mike engulfed him in a bear hug and spoke for many who witnessed the macho finish.

“That was f------ unbelievable,” he said.

The victory lap continued along the rope line, where they were swarmed by family and friends, by Spieth and by Fowler.

“So awesome, dude,” Spieth said.

“Way to ball out,” added Fowler.

The crowd still buzzing behind them, Justin and Mike Thomas climbed up the scaffolding together. The clubhouse was now in sight. The Wanamaker Trophy was waiting, too.

Shoulder to shoulder, they couldn’t stop smiling, the PGA pro dad and PGA champion son.

Getty Images

Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

Getty Images

Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

Getty Images

Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

Getty Images

Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.