Justin Thomas vaguely remembers the first course record he ever held. He was maybe 9 years old and playing a practice round for the Junior World Championships in San Diego. The course? “It was like an executive course,” Thomas recalled, which likely points to the mystery layout being Singing Hills Resort’s Piper Glen in El Cajon (the tournament’s historical records are spotty). The 18-hole, par-3 course stretched out to a par 58 for the younger age divisions back then.
Though Thomas had forgotten the course, he’ll never forget the person whose record he broke.
“Tiger [Woods] had the course record, and I remember beating him and it was like the coolest thing obviously I had ever done at that time,” Thomas said. “Something tells me it's not still standing, but I know that was the first one I had ever broken, and I was pretty pumped about that.”
Some two decades later, Thomas owns several more course records, including a handful on the PGA Tour. He added to that haul Saturday at the Sentry Tournament of Champions by firing a 12-under 61 at Kapalua’s par-73 Plantation Course.
“If there's such a thing as an easy 12 under, I definitely felt like it was,” said Thomas, who netted two eagles and eight birdies, including a closing two-putt birdie at the par-5 18th hole after he hit a beautiful cut hybrid to 15 feet.
Thomas’ 61 bested the previous Plantation Course record by a shot and relegated the five players who had previously recorded 62s to bridesmaids: K.J. Choi (2003), Graeme McDowell (2011), Chris Kirk (2015), Jason Day (2015) and Xander Schauffele (2019). Thomas also owns competitive course records on a few other Tour layouts, including Waialae Country Club (59), Medinah Country Club (61), TPC Kuala Lumpur (61) and Erin Hills (63).
(Thomas did have to later share his throne, as just over two hours later Jon Rahm matched his 61.)
“Every golf course you go to, I mean, there's a scorecard in the locker room,” Thomas said. “It's pretty fun having a handful of buddies that live in Chicago that will go play Medinah every once in a while and they will send me pictures of my scorecard. It's stuff like that, whether the people know me or not, or whether they know whoever shot the course record or not, it seems like that's kind of a part of the club at that time. So, it definitely means something.”
Perhaps, more meaningful was Thomas’ hot round catapulted him into the top 10 – though far from contention as co-leaders Rahm and Cameron Smith are nine shots clear of Thomas at 26 under. Thomas opened the Tour’s 2022 lid-lifter in 74, tying Lucas Glover for the worst first round in the 38-player field.
“I looked up [at the leaderboard] and was in last,” Thomas said. “I felt like that was pretty humbling.”
But he backed that up in 67 and had another six-plus-shot improvement in soft, benign conditions on Saturday. He opened his Moving Day scoring by holing a 15-footer for birdie at the par-4 third hole. Two holes later, he canned a 45-footer for eagle. He turned in 5-under 31 after a tap-in birdie at the par-5 ninth before catching fire with a 6-under run on Nos. 12-16. That stretch included a second shot from 176 yards to 6 feet at the par-5 15th hole, which he eagled.
“I wasn't crazy aggressive today,” Thomas said. “When you have wedges in your hand with soft greens, you just, you attack. It doesn't matter if you're in last or first. You're just trying to make birdies and I felt like that's what I did. I mean, I was so far back, it's not like I could really look at the leaderboard and try to play any differently. It was just: try to birdie every hole we played.”
According to Twenty-First Group's Justin Ray, Thomas now has a Tour-best nine rounds of 62 or lower since 2015.
"He has a tremendous ability to continue to push that lower and lower and lower, and it's a skill," added Thomas' playing competitor, Jordan Spieth. "It was certainly fun to watch him being a buddy of mine."