Justin Thomas Turns Slim Chance into Two-time PGA Champion
Entering Sunday, there was data showing Justin Thomas had just a 1-percent chance of winning the PGA Championship.
But sometimes all you need is a chance.
After his third 3-under 67 this week at Southern Hills Country Club, Thomas defeated Will Zalatoris in a playoff to capture his second PGA Championship.
Thomas trailed by seven shots through 54 holes, a comeback that tied the largest in PGA Championship history. With the win, Thomas becomes the 17th golfer to win the Wanamaker Trophy twice.
“I really tried to play the golf course for what it was, and I had a good feeling,” said Thomas.
“Although I was so far back, there weren’t that many guys ahead of me, and it’s a very tough golf course and anything could happen.”
Thomas birdied the first playoff hole after pinching a wedge to just 10 feet. He drove the green on the par-4 17th – the second playoff hole – and rolled in another birdie. It was the first time anyone has made birdie on the first two playoff holes since the PGA of America went to the three-hole aggregate playoff format in 2000.
The last time the PGA Championship went to a playoff was 2011 when Keegan Bradley defeated Jason Dufner.
Thomas two-putted on the par-4 18th for par to win the playoff by a shot.
“Just walking up 18 in the playoff, and I knew it wasn’t over, but I looked up and I wanted to take it in because you don’t know when and if it’s going to happen again,” said Thomas. “And it’s such an unbelievable, cool feeling that you just want to enjoy it.”
Thomas’ father, Mike, is a long-time PGA Professional. His late grandfather, Paul, was also a PGA professional. That makes winning the PGA Championship that much more special for the Thomas family.
“I know somewhere up there, Grandpa was definitely watching today and pulling for me. It’s very, very cool to be able to share this moment with my family,” said Thomas.
Thomas’ opening rounds of 67-67 were made even more impressive by the difficulty of his draw. He struggled Saturday with a 4-over 74 in tough conditions, but his creative shot-making and sheer determination shone bright in Sunday’s finale. He was even par through nine holes in the final round but was 4 under from No’s 9-18 – not including the playoff-hole birdies.
He didn’t make a bogey in his final 15 holes of the day. Thomas’ PGA Championship victory comes five years after his maiden PGA title, which he won by two at the Quail Hollow Club in 2017.
“Five years is a long time, especially at this stage of my life,” said Thomas when asked to reflect on his PGA Championship triumph in North Carolina. “It’s just everything that I have and been doing is working. It’s just trying to get it a little better. I just feel like that’s what I’ve done in every facet.”
It’s his first win with Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay on his bag full time. Mackay, who was with Phil Mickelson for five of his six major triumphs, started working with Thomas in late 2021.
Mackay filled in for Thomas’ caddie twice before their courtship became official – even helping Thomas find the winner’s circle the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in 2020 – but was otherwise working as a television broadcaster.
“He did an unbelievable job of keeping me in the moment and keeping me patient today, and, yeah, it just is an unbelievable team win for all of us,” said Thomas.
Thomas said Saturday night he was likely the last guy on the driving range at Southern Hills and Mackay gave him a talk, firmly aimed at boosting his confidence for Sunday’s finale.
“I’m fully confident in saying that I wouldn’t be standing here if he didn’t give me that... I just needed to let some steam out. I didn’t need to bring my frustration and anger home with me,” said Thomas. “He was just like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to stop being so hard on yourself. You’re in contention every single week we’re playing.’
“It’s a major championship. ‘You don’t have to be perfect. Just don’t be hard on yourself. Just, kind of, let stuff happen and everything is trending in the right direction.’”
The direction Thomas ended going as night fell on Tulsa Sunday night was right into the winner’s circle at the PGA Championship. Thomas, who had been stuck on just one major title for half a decade, was asked earlier in the week about how difficult it had been for him to notch major No.2.
“It’s a lot harder to get the second than I thought it would be, internally,” admitted Thomas. Thomas grinded it out Sunday and played well enough to make it look easy Sunday at Southern Hills. And, he added his name to the record books in the process.