PGA Tour: Is Justin Thomas Golf’s Next Superstar?

After a string of impressive recent wins, is Justin Thomas the latest young player destined for superstardom?

Until January, perhaps the most well-known facts about Justin Thomas were that he hits the ball a long way and that he ’s a long-time friend of Jordan Spieth. Now, after back-to-back victories and three wins in the first eight PGA Tour events of 2017, is he the next superstar?

His odds at the Masters went from 80/1 before the SBS Tournament of Champions to 40/1 after it. After winning the Sony Open, he jumped to 25/1 and No. 8 in the world rankings.

According to Golf Digest, he’s the “first player not named Tiger Woods to win three of his first five to start a season.” To recap his victories in 2017, they are CIMB Classic, which he won as defending champion, the SBS Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open.

At Sony, it wasn’t just that he won.  It’s the way he did it, which was in style, starting with a first round 59, only the eighth sub 60 round shot in the history of the PGA Tour. He never gave up the lead, based primarily on his low first round. However, his victory margin was a whopping seven shots, almost Tiger-esque.

He set a new 72-hole scoring record of 253, eclipsing Tommy Armour III’s 254 mark at the Valero Texas Open in 2003.

Thomas also tied or set several records on the PGA Tour.

He tied Steve Sticker’s lowest first 54-hole score at the 2010 John Deere Classic of 188.

He shot the lowest ever first 36 holes in PGA Tour history, scoring 123, and bettering the 124 tallies shot by Jason Day, David Toms and Pat Perez.

His 59 has been equaled by just six others and beaten only by one, Jim Furyk, who shot 58 last summer at the Travelers Championship. And to date, Thomas is the youngest in PGA Tour history to shoot 59. 

It’s no wonder Jordan Spieth said that the way Thomas was playing was unbelievable.

“He’s got full control of his game, full confidence, and he’s executing under pressure,” Spieth explained to media after round four. “He’s gone through the process. He’s succeeded to the highest level at each level and just moved up the totem pole. When you get out to the big tour, sometimes it takes a little bit of time to win or win in bunches.”

Spieth noted that he had some personal experience on winning in bunches, although looking at his brief PGA Tour record, Spieth’s victories have been spread out during entire seasons when he excelled.

Thomas said the hardest part of winning at the Sony was blocking out the distractions, particularly the Golf Channel, whose announcers kept saying no one in PGA Tour history had ever lost with a seven shot lead going into the final round.

“This win meant a lot because of how I did it, the first wire-to-wire win,” Thomas told media after grabbing his third title of the 2017 season. “I had a hard time getting focused up there today. I was nervous today for the first time I’ve felt like that in a long time. To be able to handle that the way I did, I was very proud.”

He was happier about the margin of victory than breaking the 72-hole scoring record, but he admitted he has not had time to let it all sink in.

Whether Thomas wins three more or no more in 2017, he has to be considered a player to beat at every tournament he enters from now forward.

As Jordan Spieth said, “JT has got it rolling now, and he’s going to be a tough guy to stop this year.”

The only thing that stands in his way is injury.  As a cautionary note, if you’ve ever seen him swing in person, you wonder how his slender body can take it. He swings so hard that he lifts himself off the ground, like Laura Davies.

The speed of Thomas’ swing is reminiscent of a younger Tiger Woods, and lately Thomas has been able to find fairways, giving him a tremendous advantage. His prodigious distance translates into very short second shots, upping his potential birdie opportunities.

If Thomas’ back holds up to the force he generates in his swing, he could be destined for greatness. However, as the Pulitzer Prize winning, former sports columnist for The New York Times once said to me about football, “The road to the Super Bowl goes through the emergency room.” And the road to a great golf season or career can easily be stymied by back problems. Just ask Jason Day.

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