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

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Louie Chan

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

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