PGA Champ Justin Thomas went on a run of 21 tournaments without missing a cut over the course of 2021/22. Whether or not it was a coincidence that during that season he also made a change of caddy, remains to be seen.
Either way, Thomas cuts a confident figure around the course – so much so that he slugged back a pint of Guinness mid-round in Ireland recently, in preparation for the Open – Cheers! RSNG asked him how important maintaining a positive mindset was to clinching his comeback title win, even after what was in his words a ‘cold shank’ of a shot…
As the opening three rounds of the 2022 PGA Championship unfolded, those backing Justin Thomas would have been hoping that he could channel the sort of comeback recognised in another sports star from his hometown.
That’s because the 29-year-old hails from the same place in Kentucky as Muhammad Ali who, in the eyes of many, remains the greatest G.O.A.T of them all.
Thomas was seven shots off the lead, with his path to the summit blocked by some of golf’s new generation, in Matt Fitzpatrick, Cameron Young, Abraham Ancer, Seamus Power and the man he would later beat in a playoff, Will Zalatoris.
The Freedom Of Falling Behind
“Knowing that I was so far behind the lead, I just thought I would try to play the best golf I could to finish as high up the leaderboard. I would use it as an exercise in what I could improve on next time,” Thomas says.
“Yet golf is a game where nothing is over until the last putt is made, and yeah, I surprised myself that I was able to win my second major here.
“It goes to show that no lead is too big in the PGA. When I made bogeys at the third and the sixth, I felt that checked the momentum somewhat, but I battled to make three birdies in four holes at the turn and then another on the 17th. That allowed me into the playoff.”
The Best Bogey Of His Life
Thomas says that the sixth hole bogey is, ironically, what ultimately kept his challenge alive. It involved what he himself called a ‘cold shank’ – where you make contact with the golf ball with another part of the club other than the head.
He also called it ‘the best bogey of my life,’ and it absolutely was. Careening the ball into a tree with his tee shot at the 214-yard par 3, it ended up about 20 yards – and in a bunker – away from the creek.
Had it crept into the stretch of water that separates the second and sixth holes, it may very well have been curtains. But he survived, revived, made the best four in a long time, and the rest is history.
Having ‘Bones’ on the bag and in my team is such an advantage – the confidence and positive mindset he gives me is almost like a few shots off each round
“It’s something I’ve done that I never want to do again – winning a tournament after shanking a tee shot,” he laughs. “That was so bad, I literally dropped the club at the tee, and I couldn’t believe what had just happened.
The Mindset That Shaves Shots Off Your Round
“The good thing about having ‘Bones’ [Jim Mackay] as a caddy is that he is just so positive – he says the right things at the right times, and he just made me keep on believing. He said, ‘Play the course, not the field’.
“That stood me in good stead and having him on the bag and in my team is such an advantage. The confidence and positive mindset he gives me is almost like a few shots off each round.”
That was the second major in the bag for Thomas, and also the second time he has lifted the Wanamaker Trophy for winning the PGA Championship, as well as top 10 finishes at each of The Masters, The US Open and The Open.
But it hasn’t been all plain sailing for the Kentucky player, as his missed cut in the 2022 Charles Schwab Challenge at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth proved.
In that tournament, although managing to make an unbelievable par at the 3rd hole after his tee shot landed just a few feet away from a fence, he eventually ended up +3 and went home early.
“In the past, TV executives on the coverage of the Charles Schwab Challenge wanted players to wear mics after the televised Match II between Phil (Mickleson) and Tiger (Woods). Well I’m glad I wasn’t wearing one that day!” he laughs.
Recovering With Your Very Next Shot
“There are times when you play bad shots and you scramble to make par; it then inspires you to play better golf, clear your mind and have a good round. However, sometimes it doesn’t.
“The players are that good now, that the courses have to be equally as good. They are testing, they are challenging and that’s without even bringing any inclement weather into the equation. I think it’s as tough as it’s ever been.”
As Thomas references, the competition between players is getting ever stronger and the results in major championships underline that, especially over the last decade.
Up to the US Open in the summer of 2022, the previous 42 majors had witnessed just eight players win more than once, and Thomas was one of those.
You can’t rest on your laurels. If you make a mistake, you have to recover with the very next shot or you can be gone
With only the separate threats of Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka seemingly set up to emulate Tiger Woods, it left 30 different winners of the grand slams.
“As I say, it’s never been as difficult to win as it is now. Never mind winning a major, it’s hard enough to grab a trophy on the PGA Tour and that’s testament to how talented the players are.
“There is so much quality about, that you can’t rest on your laurels. If you make a mistake, you have to recover with the very next shot or you can be gone.
“But I thrive on challenges and pressure. It’s a damned-difficult game and we know that any one of us can win from week to week. That’s the respect I have for golf.”
WHAT NEXT? For more on PGA Championship winners, read the RSNG interview with Rory McIlroy, and discover how he has built such a powerful drive.