Defending PGA Champ Thomas Sees Light at End of Tunnel
Justin Thomas’ victory at last year’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills can be watched over and over at the click of Netflix. An epic, record-setting, wild-ride of a Sunday that saw the former world No. 1 make up a seven-shot lead to lift his second Wanamaker Trophy.
And now he’s looking to successfully defend, and, perhaps, use this week as the spark he needs to find some more solid results this PGA TOUR season.
Thomas, who is looking to become just the third golfer in the stroke-play era to go back-to-back at the PGA Championship, is coming into the week at Oak Hill Country Club with just two top-10 finishes this season. He was a non-factor at The Players Championship and missed the cut at the Masters. Thomas’ tee-to-green game, however, has been as solid as ever, as he sits 16th on the PGA TOUR this season in strokes gained total.
His putting has been a glaring weakness — he’s 138th in strokes gained putting so far this season.
If you asked Thomas a month ago if he was in a slump, he would have said he was. But now? Not so much.
“I'm starting to see a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel,” Thomas said.
Thomas made a recent switch to the AimPoint putting method, and he’s getting more and more comfortable with it.
“Like anything in your golf game, you've got to practice it,” Thomas said. “I felt like I had a good week practicing it, tried to get a little bit more accustomed to it, a little bit more fluid, and just making it easier routine-wise.”
Regardless of his past efforts at other points this season, this week is a very special one for Thomas and his family. His dad and coach (his only coach) Mike Thomas is a long-time PGA of America member. The emotion poured out of both father and son after last year’s playoff triumph. Thomas broke through for his first PGA Championship victory in 2017 — winning by two at Quail Hollow — before his come-from-behind win last year. He topped Will Zalatoris in a three-hole playoff.
Heading into the final round a year ago, it was well-documented how frustrated Thomas was with his game. He turned things around post-round and then, well, golf happened the next day. It’s the unpredictability of sports, but it went in Thomas’ favor during the finale with Mito Pereria making a double bogey on the 72nd hole of the championship to finish one shot outside the playoff.
“The biggest thing for me was honestly just getting it out of my system Saturday before I left the golf course, and I think that was something [caddie Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay] did a great job with,” said Thomas of his final-round mindset. “It was more just like I couldn't leave the property or the golf course in that frame of mind. It's not healthy.
“That's kind of when Bones told me, ‘We're doing a lot of great things, playing some really good golf, and you're still a great player. Let's not let one round change that.’ Yeah, it worked out well.”
Thomas had his year with the Wanamaker Trophy. He recalls bringing it to the Charles Schwab Challenge the next week and leaving it in the rental home he had for the week with Kevin Kisner before bringing it to party with a few childhood friends back home in Louisville. But now it’s time to focus and he knows Oak Hill Country Club will present a new challenge.
Thomas said he sees a bit of Southern Hills Country Club in this venue, which is a positive for him. And he doesn’t feel like he’s at a disadvantage not having played Oak Hill before, especially considering the big-time redesign a few years ago.
“I love old-school golf courses,” said Thomas. “Last year everyone is like, ‘Oh, I haven't played since the redo.’ And I'm, like, ‘I've never played, period.’ So [...] I'm sure some of the holes are similar for the guys that have played it, but some people are trying to learn the redesign, I'm trying to learn the golf course. So I think a lot of people are in very similar circumstances.”
While everyone may be prepping for this golf course in somewhat similar fashion, only Thomas is here as the defending champion.
Time to get to work.