Thomas on Top

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

Justin Thomas sits at the top of the PGA’s Fed Ex points standings. The St. Xavier High School graduate has three wins and four top 10 finishes in his first five tournaments this season. He won the SBS Tournament of Champions in Maui on January 8. Four days later, he became just the seventh player to shoot at 59 on the PGA Tour, in the opening round of the Sony Open in Honolulu. He finished up the weekend with a record setting 72 hole score of 253. His parents, Jani and Mike, were in Hawaii for both wins. I spoke with Jani.

How many tournaments would you say you drove Justin to?

Jani Thomas: We started when he was seven, you know just the Kentucky things and then Plantation Tour on weekends. You figure he’s had 130 wins, I took him to all those. All the one’s where there weren’t wins too, and there’s been a lot of those. It’s been in the hundreds at least.

Is what is happening now even beyond your wildest dreams?

Thomas: I believed in Justin. I knew he was good. I knew he had the passion. I knew he had the drive, but you never know. … The last two weeks, did I ever think, gosh this will be happening? Probably not. It’s just amazing and it was great to be there.

He won his first two PGA Tour events in Malaysia, so to be standing behind the green in Maui and to watch him win the SBS Tournament of Champions, and the shot he hit on 17?

Thomas: We’ve seen him do that so many times, where he needs to hit a great shot and he does. …

Then in his next round he shoots a 59. How aware where you guys that he was in range of that number?

Thomas: I said to Mike, he was playing good and if you can say it was sort of an easy 59. He’s playing well so he was making a lot of birdies, but I didn’t see the standard bearer and I just said to Mike at one point, “Gosh how many under is he now?” When he missed those two putts and we saw his tee shot in the bunker on the last hole. It was like, wow, this is a really tough shot. By then I don’t even know if you could see it on TV, as word got out, the galleries just grew and grew and we did see on 18. By the time we finished there were so many people around.

Then to win a tournament by seven strokes and set a PGA Tour record, is it almost too much to believe?

Thomas: Sunday morning was probably the most nervous Mike and I have ever been for a tournament and even Justin said that. All we heard from everybody, including the media was, no one has ever blown a seven-shot lead. You get that in your head and it’s like, well you don’t know. You could go out and have a terrible hole. Someone could blow a seven-shot lead. We were both really nervous. It didn’t matter what happened. If he finished fifth, that’s great, he had a wonderful week. Even Justin said he had to stop looking at Twitter and any social media. We could tell he was nervous playing his first five or six holes.

When did the nerves subside a little?

Thomas: When he hit a great tee shot on nine, Mike was like, “He’s in control; he’s back.”

As you’ve had some time to process all this, what goes through your mind?

Thomas: It’s pretty amazing and he wasn’t aware of any of the records. He did know Sunday morning he needed to shoot five under to make the record. He was thinking of that at the end.

You brought those balls home?

Thomas: Yeah, Mike is going to have something made.

As much time as you have spent with him, has he changed at all?

Thomas: He’s not any different and he’s the first to say, when we’re together, he doesn’t want to talk about golf. Sometimes I’ll just say Justin, give me five minutes. He has an agent and they do everything. We still go out and have fun. It’s more important for us for him to be a good person and to be appreciative and to be humble. That’s the part that we want and all of the other things are great, but not the most important.

Did you see signs that this could be a breakout year for him?

Thomas: He’s played well his first three years and probably not gotten as much out of it. He still has great years. Last year he finished 11th in Fed Ex. The first year he just missed it. He’s become a lot more patient and these last two weeks, he’s hit it well and he’s putted well. All those things don’t come together at the same time. VT