59!

Justin Thomas sets a tour­na­ment record in the event’s first round

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By Ja­son Kaneshiro jkaneshiro@staradvertiser.com

Justin Thomas cel­e­brated af­ter mak­ing his ea­gle putt on the ninth hole to shoot a tour­na­ment record 59 Thurs­day in the first round of the Sony Open at Wa­ialae Coun­try Club. “It was ob­vi­ously a fun day,” said Thomas, who was 11 un­der for the day. “I just kind of had it rolling out there. I was hit­ting it well. All my birdies were easy. It wasn’t like I made any long putts or any­thing.”

Both be­fore and af­ter his last stroke, Justin Thomas may have been the calmest per­son around Wa­ialae Coun­try Club’s ninth green Thurs­day.

Thomas had put to­gether a re­mark­able open­ing round to the Sony Open in Hawaii to that point and sur­veyed an ea­gle putt just in­side of 15 feet from his­tory.

“I wasn’t too ner­vous over the putt. I was just more fo­cused on try­ing to make the putt,” Thomas said.

He coolly rolled his ball — soon to be a keep­sake — into the cup to reach one of golf’s magic num­bers with a tour­na­ment-record 11-un­der-par 59. The ea­gle drew fist pumps from close friends and play­ing part­ners Jor­dan Spi­eth and Daniel Berger af­ter Thomas punc­tu­ated the eighth round of 59 or bet­ter in PGA Tour his­tory. “The coolest part for me was how ex­cited they were for me on 18,” Thomas said. “To do that with two of your best friends out here. “I thought about it go­ing up to the green. I’m like, ‘If I make it, what am I go­ing to do?’ It’s not like win­ning the tour­na­ment. It’s like, ‘Hey, un­be­liev­able round, you have three days left to try to play well.’ So I didn’t re­ally know how to re­act. I never had a putt on the last hole on a Thurs­day mean that much.” With Wa­ialae’s winds con­spic­u­ously ab­sent, Thomas cut through the vog to book­end his round with ea­gles with eight birdies and a bo­gey in be­tween and sur­passed the tour­na­ment’s 18-hole record of 60 set by Davis Love III in the se­cond round in 1994. Even so, he’s a long way from claim­ing his third vic­tory of the sea­son and se­cond in the state af­ter win­ning the SBS Tour­na­ment of Cham­pi­ons on Maui last week­end. Con­di­tions re­mained calm in the af­ter­noon and Hud­son Swaf­ford played his se­cond nine at 29 and en­ters to­day’s round three strokes be­hind Thomas af­ter sign­ing for a 62. Rory Sab­ba­tini, who has three top-10 fin­ishes in the tour­na­ment, matched his best Wa­ialae round with a 63. Thomas, 23, fired a 61 in the se­cond round two years ago, but hadn’t gone un­der 70 in his next four rounds at Wa­ialae and missed the cut last year.

“I know this course if you drive it well you can play re­ally well. It’s the hard­est fair­ways to hit on tour I think and the greens aren’t big,” Thomas said.

“The big­gest thing is just get­ting it in play be­cause I can just hit a lot of 2-irons out here and then I’m hav­ing short irons in, and I felt com­fort­able enough with those that I could hit my num­bers.”

Sta­tis­ti­cally, Thomas hit eight of 14 fair­ways and 14 of 18 greens in reg­u­la­tion and took 23 putts to be­come the youngest player to join the 59 club.

Thomas be­gan his day by hol­ing out a wedge for ea­gle on the 10th from 34 yards out. He fol­lowed with his lone bo­gey of the day and birdied five of his last six holes on the back nine to make the turn at 29.

He kept the stan­dard bear­ers reach­ing for red num­bers with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 and got to 9 un­der with his eighth birdie of the morn­ing af­ter stick­ing his tee shot on the par-3 fourth hole in­side of 6 feet. “Be­ing 9 un­der through 13 I was like, ‘This is a great op­por­tu­nity.’ You don’t get it very of­ten in golf,” Thomas said.

But when birdie putts on Nos. 5 and 7 — “two of the best putts I prob­a­bly hit to­day” — stayed out of the cup, “I was kind of say­ing to my­self, “You know, maybe this isn’t meant to be.”

He pulled his tee shot on No. 8 un­der the trees right of the fair­way. He had to pull out one of the signs mark­ing a fair­way cross­ing to clear his line to the green and his low 7-iron ran into a bunker. Af­ter es­cap­ing the sand, he dropped a 10-footer to save par, much to the re­lief of his fa­ther and golf teacher, Mike Thomas.

“The most ner­vous I was was the par he made on the 17th hole (of the round),” Mike Thomas said. “That was huge be­cause if you don’t make that it’s over.”

His drive on the par-5 ninth went into a bunker to the left of the fair­way and he ini­tially thought about tak­ing a wedge out of the bag be­fore Berger, hit­ting from the same bunker, hit 4-iron onto the green.

“I’m like, ‘He just did it.’ This isn’t a time for me to lay it up,” said Thomas, who then took 5-iron.

“I ab­so­lutely flushed it,” he said. “The wind died down a lit­tle bit for me and it flew up there about pin-high and I rolled it in.”

Be­fore tak­ing his seat in the in­ter­view room, Thomas tossed the ball to his fa­ther, a club pro at Har­mony Land­ing Coun­try Club in Goshen, Ky. While he coached Justin since the young­ster could walk, he didn’t ex­actly hover through Justin’s early years.

“Our re­la­tion­ship and our in­struc­tion … (was) more, ‘Hey just come and get me if you need some­thing.’ I didn’t stand out there all the time,” Mike Thomas said. “I taught him to know his own game, to not need me.”

Mike Thomas didn’t get to see his son’s first two tour vic­to­ries, but Justin’s given his fam­ily a show dur­ing their trip to Hawaii with his win on Maui and Thurs­day’s round.

“I didn’t see ei­ther win in Malaysia so last week was pretty cool and then this week … very for­tu­nate for sure,” Mike Thomas said.

DEN­NIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM

DEN­NIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM

Justin Thomas showed his of­fi­cial score­card re­flect­ing his 59 in the first round of the Sony Open in Hawaii on Thurs­day.

DEN­NIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM

Rory Sab­ba­tini had a 299-yard drive on the 16th hole at Wa­ialae Coun­try Club. His av­er­age drive in the first round was 322 yards.

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