| Asian An­gle

Even though his stint atop the sum­mit of the Of­fi­cial World Golf Rank­ing lasted only a month, Justin Thomas has proven him­self to be truly a wor­thy No. 1 in every sense of the way, writes Chuah Choo Chi­ang.

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Chuah Choo Chi­ang

Justin Thomas has proven him­self to be truly a wor­thy No. 1 in every sense of the way.

At 25, Thomas is the reign­ing FedExCup cham­pion, an eight-time PGA TOUR win­ner, holder of one ma­jor ti­tle and count­ing. He’s shot the mag­i­cal 59 once plus he is a firm fan favourite – in May, and he helped make a fan’s wed­ding pro­posal be­come a Twit­ter sen­sa­tion and head­line news on CNN world sports.

Sport­ing and en­ter­tain­ment celebri­ties in­clud­ing Michael Jor­dan, Steph Curry, Tiger Woods, Kid Rock, Tom Brady and Justin Tim­ber­land are amongst some of Thomas’ bud­dies. He hangs out with Jor­dan Spi­eth, Rickie Fowler and Smylie Kauf­man dur­ing their now-fa­mous spring breaks and he has also played golf with Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

De­spite his rise to fame and ac­cu­mu­la­tion of wealth – Thomas has earned over US$22 mil­lion in prize win­nings in a lit­tle over three years – he has kept both his feet firmly on the ground, which iron­i­cally is in sharp con­trast to his dy­namic golf swing which sees him al­most tip-toe­ing on his right foot at the point of im­pact. The power he gen­er­ates pro­pels the ball to in­cred­i­ble dis­tances for a guy who stands at merely 1.77 me­ters and is a lightweight 65kg.

The son of a PGA teach­ing pro­fes­sional, Thomas be­came the fourth youngest world No. 1 after Woods, Rory McIl­roy and Spi­eth in mid-May, thanks to an 11th place fin­ish at THE PLAY­ERS Cham­pi­onship, the PGA TOUR’s flag­ship tour­na­ment.

Such was the thrill that he stayed up late into the evening, wait­ing ea­gerly for the world rank­ing’s of­fi­cial web­site to re­fresh with his name perched at the top. “I waited to re­fresh it and saw it, and it was pretty cool. See­ing every other golfer in the world be­hind my name was a pretty fun thing,” said Thomas, who screen­shot the page for safe keep­ing.

“It means a lot, but it's some­thing I want to have for a long time, it's not some­thing I just want to have once. To have it for a week and then be done with – like D.J. has and like Tiger did and other guys who have had it for a long time, that's more of a goal of mine as op­posed to just hav­ing it. I would much rather play well for another eight to 10 years and see how long I can have it."

Power-hit­ter John­son swiftly re­gained his top rank­ing with an 18th PGA TOUR vic­tory at the FedEx St. Jude Clas­sic in June,

but it is very cer­tain that Thomas will be fired up to challenge for the man­tle through­out the re­main­der of the 2017-18 sea­son and be­yond.

Asian golf fans, in par­tic­u­lar, those in Malaysia, have been for­tu­nate to wit­ness Thomas an­nounce his ar­rival on the big stage. He claimed his break­through PGA TOUR ti­tle at the CIMB Clas­sic at TPC Kuala Lumpur in 2015 and re­turned 12 months later to re­peat suc­cess­fully as cham­pion.

His sec­ond ti­tle in Malaysia pro­vided the launch pad to a stun­ning 2016-17 PGA TOUR cam­paign which saw him win­ning four other tour­na­ments in­clud­ing a first Ma­jor at the PGA Cham­pi­onship and cul­mi­nat­ing with the sea­son-long and pres­ti­gious FedExCup crown and the Player of the Year award. “To win two in a row (in Malaysia) ranks right up there with my ac­com­plish­ments,” said Thomas last year.

From ini­tially dis­play­ing raw tal­ent and tenac­ity – he’d bounced back from a dou­ble bo­gey with three straight birdies on the back nine to win by one from Adam Scott in Malaysia in 2015 – to soak up ad­vice from golf great Jack Nick­laus who told him it pays to play con­ser­va­tively when he does not have his ‘A’ game on given weeks. Thomas has be­come a com­plete golfer in his drive to be­come the best golfer on the planet.

His tri­umph at the in­au­gu­ral CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES in South Korea last Oc­to­ber was another huge rub­ber stamp to his growing cre­den­tials and char­ac­ter. Bat­tling fa­tigue, he dug deep into his re­serves and ran on gas fumes to pip Marc Leish­man in a play­off.

Thomas’ cur­rent sea­son form is al­ready im­pres­sive with a vic­tory at the Honda Clas­sic in Fe­bru­ary, four top-10s, four other top-20s and not a sin­gle missed cut from 11 starts at the time of writ­ing. He is also in­tent on chas­ing a small slice of his­tory as no FedExCup cham­pion has re­peated, not even Woods dur­ing his dom­i­nant years. “It's some­thing I would like to do,” he said.

Woods, a 14-time ma­jor win­ner, spent a 683-week record atop the world rank­ing be­fore be­ing de­throned in 2014 with John­son's reign last­ing 64 weeks. As seen, Thomas’ first reign was short-lived, but the world rank­ing is so bunched up that it can change quickly. And Thomas cer­tainly has the fire in the belly to stay in the dog­fight.

His fa­ther, Mike, told the Sports Il­lus­trated in June that his son was al­ways de­ter­mined to win. "He wasn't afraid to suc­ceed. A lot of peo­ple are. They like it back in fourth or fifth place. It's com­fort­able. Justin, he was pissed when he was sec­ond. That's stuff you just can't teach," said Mike.

Ul­ti­mately, it is clear that Thomas is un­fazed to be­come one of the greats in the game. De­spite his celebrity sta­tus, he re­mains as the guy next door – hum­ble, ap­proach­able and re­spect­ful. Oth­er­wise, why would he re­spond to a fan’s re­quest via In­sta­gram to help in a mar­riage pro­posal mar­riage? “It all worked out great,” Thomas said.

Whether he is in­side the ropes or out­side, Thomas has un­doubt­edly proven he is No. 1 no mat­ter which way you look at him.

Justin Thomas and his fa­ther and cad­die Mike Thomas pre­pare to play from the sec­ond tee dur­ing the third round of the Sen­try Tour­na­ment

Justin Thomas cel­e­brates with the tro­phy on the 18th green after win­ning the FedExCup and sec­ond in the TOUR Cham­pi­onship last year

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