Two weeks in Hawaii at the start of 2017 have seen PGA Tour player Justin Thomas establish himself among the elite in world golf. The 23-year-old American won back-to-back events in the second and third weeks of January at the SBS Tournament of Champions and then the Sony Open.
But what is most impressive is not the victories themselves but the manner in which he captured them. In his first start of the year at the Tournament of Champions, Mr Thomas was the dominant player throughout. He fought off a late charge from fellow talent and in-form player, Hideki Matsuyama, eventually finishing with the impressive score of 22-under-par. Victory in that event saw him join the company of recent past winners including Patrick Reed and close friend Jordan Spieth, both of whom have become regulars in the PGA Tour winner’s circle.
Already the “it man” in golf, Mr Thomas arrived at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu in the form of his life and what followed did not disappoint. He flew out the traps with a round that included eight birdies and two eagles. At the end of the day, he had carded a score of 59, becoming the youngest of just seven players ever to shoot a sub-60 round on the PGA tour.
With a healthy lead already established, Thomas dug only deeper from there. His first round was followed up with a second of 64 as he reached the halfway mark, setting a new lowest score for 36 holes. The records continued to tumble as he tied lowest ever score for 54 holes, reaching 22-under-par, seven shots ahead of the field.
The young player still had it all to do on Sunday though, with his eyes set firmly on the 65 that he would need to break the all-time scoring record for a 72-hole tournament. The round started slowly with a bogey on the fourth, but Mr Thomas soon found the metronomic consistency which had propelled him all week and he made a string of birdies on the back nine. By the 18th hole, he was left with a mere tap in to shoot the 65 that set the new record, completing all four rounds in just 253 strokes.
In the aftermath of these incredible two weeks, all eyes will be on Mr Thomas as the world of golf prepares for the year’s first major championship, the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, USA.
The return of Tiger Woods to competitive golf will, of course, be one of the biggest lures of press attention; however, Mr Thomas’s recent surge has propelled him into an increasingly large group of young players following in Woods’s example and dominating the game. Chief among these is perhaps Mr Spieth, but also Mr Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy, and Rickie Fowler. Like each of these players, Thomas’s style epitomises the modern game.
Despite his relatively slight frame – just five feet, ten inches, and 65 kilograms – his tremendous length off the tee in his recent victories impressed people the most. His picture-perfect swing and impeccable technique allow him to frequently crush drives of over 350 yards. He ranks 12th on tour for average driving distance surrounded by players who are bigger and stronger. This has seen him power his way to eighth in the official world rankings.
As the game of golf evolves into one dominated by big-hitting youngsters who train like athletes, it seems that Justin Thomas will be one of the key players in this development. With many years ahead of him and all the talent and confidence needed to make it to the top, he is sure to be one of the world’s leading players in years to come.