The infamous “Green Mile” at Quail Hollow was no match for Justin Thomas, who pushed out his horizons in Sunday’s fading light to win his maiden Major.
The infamous "Green Mile" at Quail Hollow, a brutal stretch of closing holes where players try to hang on with pars, had been a scoring graveyard in the whole week of 2017 USPGA Championship. But it was there that Justin Thomas pushed out his horizons in
The Green Mile is as challenging as advertised - Numbers 1618 at Quail Hollow gave up only 88 brides in the whole week of the 99th USPGA Championship, and exacted 464 bogeys or worse. In Sunday’s final round, the 12 players that finished inside the Top 10 played the Green Mile in a collective 11-over par.
Graham DeLaet, who tied for seventh, was the only player in the Top 10 to play that stretch under par. Chris Stroud had the most difficult time navigating the Green Mile. He played the three holes in 4-over with bogeys on 16 and 17 and a double bogey at the 18th to tie for ninth at 1-under.
But it was time for Justin Thomas’ rite of passage. The Green Mile was waiting.
“I was a lot more comfortable and calm than I thought I would be,” he would say later. “Just kind of going through those holes knowing that I’ve done these a million times. I know that’s a cliché, and everyone says it.”
First, there was a saved par on 16, after he missed the fairway and hit into a bunker. Then, a 15-foot birdie putt on 17, after a fearless 7-iron, with the water sitting there, staring him in the face, perfectly able to swallow his chances. “That was one of the best golf shots I’ve probably ever hit in my life,” he
said. “That shot, I’ll never forget that vision in my head.”
On his way to the 17th green, he tried to wolf down a quick snack. “I started coughing, and I was like, ‘Am I really going to choke? Is this the sign to come?’”
No, it wasn’t a sign.
By 18, with a three-shot lead and the crowd chanting “J.T! J.T!” the work was nearly done. He finished with a play-it-safe bogey for a 68. The young man who once got a Jack Nicklaus autograph now has his name on the same trophy.
Thomas’ victory at Quail Hollow is the latest chapter in a golf business family. Thomas became the eighth PGA Champion who is the son of a PGA Professional. His father, 57-year-old PGA Master Professional Mike Thomas, is the PGA Head Professional at Harmony Landing Golf Course in Goshen, Kentucky. Justin’s grandfather, Paul, is an 85-year-old retired PGA Life Member who lives in Columbus, Ohio. Paul joined the PGA of America in 1956.
“I can’t put it into words,” Thomas said about his PGA of America heritage. “I wish my grandpa could be here for it. It’s so special to get it done. I’ve glad we have a trophy now.”
In fact, Mike Thomas kept every golf ball from every tournament his son has ever won.
He has 131 of them.
So, did he get the ball Thomas used on Sunday?
“You mean this one?” Mike Thomas said as he reached into his pocket and pulled it out.
The week began with Jordan Spieth’s quest for a career Grand Slam, and it never got out of the gates. Youth is taking over the highest level of golf, and there were times Thomas felt left behind. Rory McIlroy already had four majors when he was 25. Jordan Spieth, a close friend since they were 14, won his third major at the Open last month to give him three legs of the career Grand Slam.
“Frustration probably isn’t the right word,” Thomas said. “Jealously definitely is. I wanted to be doing that, and I wasn’t.”
Indeed, Sunday at Quail Hollow was his moment.
Starting the final round two shots behind the clubhouse leader, Thomas closed with a 3-under 68 for a two-shot victory to capture the last Major of the year. It required a little bit of luck - his tee shot bounced out of a tree and into the fairway on the par-5 10th, which ended with his 8-foot putt teetering on the edge of the cup for 12 seconds before gravity finally took over, and the ball dropped for birdie.
He seised control on the back nine with a chip-in for birdie from 40 feet on the par-3 13th. Above all, it required plenty of grit, and
Thomas showed plenty of that.
Among those waiting for Thomas alongside the 18th green were his father and Spieth.
Spieth and Thomas first became close when they played the Junior Evian Masters in 2007. Thomas won the 36-hole event and got to play the pro-am the next day with LPGA great Juli Inkster. Spieth caddied for him.
Ten years later, they have won consecutive Majors. And Thomas finally emerged from the shadow of a longtime friend to take his place among the young elite in golf.
Thomas won by two shots over Francesco Molinari (67), Patrick Reed (67) and Louis Oosthuizen (70), none of whom was a serious threat as they played the 18th. His real challenge was Hideki Matsuyama playing next to him, and Kevin Kisner, the 54-hole leader in the group behind him, both spent a lot of time atop the leaderboard during the week.
Kisner, who led or shared the lead after each of the first three rounds, wound up in a tie for seventh place. Matsuyama finished one stroke better than Kisner, in a tie for fifth place, after sharing the 36-hole lead and starting the final round one stroke back.
But the day was not for Kisner, whose sound-as-granite game finally wavered, with four bogeys and a double. Not for Matsuyama, whose chances wilted with five bogeys on the back nine, as the whole Japan mourned.
Justin Thomas hits his tee shot on the 3rd hole during the final round of the 99th USPGA Championship
Chris Stroud’s final round 76 left him to tie for ninth
Thomas’ parents watch the Awards Ceremony
Kevin Kisner chips onto the 18th green during the final round He wound up in a tie for seventh
Francesco Molinari hits out of the bunker on the 18th - He finished tied second at 6-under
Hideki Matsuyama’s chance of winning the maiden Major wilted with five bogeys on the back nine
Top: The young man who once got a Jack Nicklaus autograph now has his name on the same Wanamaker Trophy Bottom: Omar Uresti (Center), PGA Club Professional, is on the first tee with Vijay
Singh during the final round – Uresti went on to win the Low Scoring Trophy