HONOLULU – Jordan Spieth walked into the locker room at Waialae Country Club and couldn’t contain himself, breaking the hushed silence with the first person he came across.
“Dude, his best two putts of the day didn’t even go in,” he gushed to Brandt Snedeker.
Spieth could be forgiven his excitement as he was fresh from a front-row seat to history. Justin Thomas had just become the seventh player to shoot 59 on the PGA Tour, a bizarre card that included two eagles, eight birdies and a bogey at the Sony Open.
Any time you etch your name into the record books it’s a special day, but for Thomas, being paired with close friends Spieth and Daniel Berger made the entire day almost surreal, with his final putt, a 15-footer for eagle at the ninth hole, sparking an unbridled celebration within the threesome.
“I celebrated more than he did,” Spieth laughed.
Spieth recalled that the same threesome played a casual round together at Makena Golf & Beach Club in Maui just days before last week’s SBS Tournament of Champions with drastically different results.
“No idea, I lost a lot of golf balls,” Thomas shrugged when asked his score that day.
There was no danger of that on Thursday at Waialae.
He chipped in for eagle from 34 yards at his first hole (No. 10) and added birdies of 11, 13, 8, 5 and 3 feet at Nos. 13, 14, 16, 17 and 18, respectively, to turn in 29. As well as he hit the ball on Day 1, and he striped it, his putting was sublime with just a single miss from inside 10 feet.
After Thomas opened his second loop with back-to-back birdies, Spieth began whispering to his caddie that something special was afoot, but didn’t dare say anything to Thomas. That would violate one of sports' most important unwritten rules.
“Obviously it's like sitting on a bench on the same team when a guy is throwing a perfect game,” Spieth said. “You want to stay in the same rhythm you've been staying in the whole day. Certainly never bring it up.”
Thomas, however, wasn’t convinced, not after missing putts for birdie at the fifth (10 feet) and seventh holes (29 feet). In fact, after making birdie at No. 4 he played his next four holes in even par, but that only set the stage for his dramatic finish.
“The two best putts I probably hit today on 5 and 7 didn't go in. When those didn't go in, I was kind of saying to myself, you know, maybe this isn't meant to be,” Thomas said. “I was kind of curious if I was going to post a number or if it was just an unbelievable round.”
Thomas’ drive found the bunker at the par-5 ninth hole. “I wanted to punch something,” he said. He appeared destined for a 10-under round on the par-70 layout, but Berger, who was in the same bunker off the tee, showed him the way.
It’s what friends do.
“It was sitting really good to where it felt like I could get a 6-iron or 7-iron on it and just get it short of the green. And then I hear [Berger’s] caddie say 4-iron for them,” Thomas said. “I was like, man, can I hit it on the green? I'm like, I guess I can hit it on the green, I don't know.”
Thomas said he “flushed” a 5-iron that cleared the lip of the bunker, sailed through the warm air and settled 15 feet left of the pin. He made the putt - of course he did, what else would one expect from a player who has won twice and finished in the top 5 in four of his last five starts?
“I kind of thought when he had a look at [eagle on No. 9] that this is the kind of stuff he does,” said Mike Thomas, Justin’s father.
Thomas became the first player from the vaunted high school class of 2011 to post golf’s magic number (although Jim Furyk’s 58 last year at the Travelers Championship has certainly set a new standard), and he is a combined 33 under par in his last five Tour rounds going back to last week’s Tournament of Champions, which he won by three strokes.
But all that doesn’t really calculate in the heat of the moment. As he approached the final green he allowed himself a moment of self-indulgence, trying to imagine how he would react if the putt dropped and his card added up to 59.
This isn’t what players dream about growing up, even players like Thomas who appeared destined for greatness early. You envision holing a putt to win a major or maybe the Ryder Cup, but closing out a 59 isn’t exactly something you contemplate until it’s probably too late to plan.
Even when the left-to-right slider at the last trundled over the lip of the hole, Thomas wasn’t sure what to do until Spieth and Berger ignited the celebration.
“The coolest part for me was how excited they were for me on [No. 9],” Thomas smiled. “To do that with two of your best friends out here and two of your friends that you played with for so long. There's a handful of guys that are just cool to be around, but those are people that I'm going to be playing with and hanging out with for the next 20, 25 years out here.”
Before winning last week’s opener, Thomas admitted that the success of the other members of the ’11 class had flustered him, that he knew he was good enough to be part of that conversation and needed to step up his game.
But now it’s JT setting the standard, first last week in Maui and now with a historic round in Oahu.