Justin Time

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Overcomes 7-shot deficit, claims 2nd Wannamaker
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

PGA Championship - Justin Time
(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Tulsa, OK. Meeting expectations in professional golf becomes a much steeper climb when your name is among the upper echelons of players touted to win the sport's most treasured events.

However, the sheer weight of those expectations can very easily derail such ambitions. Pressures, both self-created and those placed by others, can prove an insurmountable heavy lift to accomplish.

Crossing that finish line can prove to be a taxing challenge both physically and most especially mentally.

Sunday's final round win by Justin Thomas at this year's PGA Championship was a marvel in sheer tenacity. Starting the final round seven shots behind leader Miko Pereira, the hill for the 29-year-old was far steeper than any he had to climb at Southern Hills.

Prior to this year's PGA Championship, the lone prior major triumph for Thomas came in the same event in 2017 at Quail Hollow. In the intervening years, Thomas had won key events -- including the '21 Players Championship but his major championship portfolio was still relegated to a solitary major.

 

The Louisville, KY native watched other key American rivals such as Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson add to their respective major trophy cases and the questions began to mount as to his overall standing as one of the world's top players. Could Thomas, a former world-ranked number 1 player and Fed-Ex Cup champion emerge and raise his game to even higher heights.

The win, in an exciting three-hole playoff with young emerging star Will Zalatoris, showcased the kind of inner resolve that defines Justin Thomas. 

Throughout the event he had to overcome a range of hurdles including the first two rounds when the tee time draw placed him directly opposite trying weather conditions that inflicted high heat and demanding wind conditions. In both rounds he did not blink -- scoring 67 on consecutive days.

Even when he scored a 74 during the third round and had to deal with major temperature changes downward and shifting wind velocities he was not deterred.

At one point during the final round, he trailed by eight shots but from the 5th hole onwards he played four-under-par golf to secure a playoff position and ultimate triumph.

During the playoff Thomas displayed a combination of steely resolve in tandem with exquisite shotmaking execution. At the first of the three holes in the playoff, Thomas found rough on the par-5 13th but wisely opted to lay-up on the hole given the close proximity of water fronting the green. From 80 yards out he then played a superb wedge to just a few feet to match the birdie of Zalatoris.

At the par-4 17th, a driveable 302-yard hole during the final round he played an even more challenging shot and found the green providing yet another birdie and a pivotal one-shot cushion.

 

At the demanding par-4 18th he replicated the pressure-packed tee shot he had played in regulation play and his approach was equally unerring providing the wherewithal to simply two-putt to solidify the victory.

The leaderboard at Southern Hills showcased a new generation of players still in their 20s but it was Thomas alone who successfully hit the key shots at critical moments.

During the trophy presentation, Thomas acknowledged the "bizarre day" and how "no lead is safe" at Southern Hills and that he "stayed so patient" -- keeping his focus while others at different intervals faded.

Thomas comes from a family of PGA professionals with his father Mike, a long time PGA club professional in Kentucky, and a grandfather Paul who passed away from Covid-19 and played in the 1962 U.S.Open and the 1993 U.S. Senior Open where he finished 15th.

From an early age, Justin was taught by his Dad to remain patient - to keep plugging when faced with any number of adverse situations. That inner resolve pushed him to the winner's circle at Southern Hills.

 

Thomas credited the skills of his caddie -- Jim "Bones" MacKay in steering him forward. Interestingly, McKay had been the long-time caddie for Phil Mickelson -- the defending champion who became the oldest winner of a major at 50 but who opted not to play in the event this year.

Interestingly, Thomas was on hand as a 7-year-old when Tiger Woods claimed his second PGA Championship title in a three-hole aggregate playoff against Bob May at Valhalla just outside of Louisville. The two players live nearby to one another in Florida and are friends.

Will a second PGA Championship propel Thomas back to the top of golf's pyramid? That's hard to say with certainty given the depth of players competing today. Without question the win did provide a re-emergence of the talents Thomas possesses and could prove to be the needed launching pad for more to follow.

 


PGA Championship Notes​

*This year's playoff was the first in a major championship since the 2017 Masters when Sergio Garcia outlasted Justin Rose. This year' PGA ended a streak of 19 consecutive majors without a playoff being contested.

*This year's playoff was also the first to decide the PGA Championship since Keegan Bradley defeated Jason Dufner in 2011.

*The win by Thomas marks the third largest final round comeback in major championship history.

*Thomas joins Dave Stockton (1970 and 1976) as the second golfer to have won his first two majors at the PGA Championship. The 1970 win by Stockton was also played at Southern Hills.

*The 18th hole played as the most difficult with a stroke average of 4.367. Just five birdies were recorded during the final round.

 

*Three men shot 67 -- the low score in the 4th round -- Kevin Streelman, Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Thomas.

*The win by Thomas marks the fourth consecutive major winner in their 20s. A new generation of players is now front and center in world professional golf.

*Will Zalatoris added to his promising early career with his second runner-up finish and fifth top ten placement in major events. The 25-year-old is now ranked 14th in the world after ending 2021 in the 34th spot.

*Thomas moves to fifth in the world professional golf rankings.

*If Miko Pereira had won he would have been the first Chilean to claim a major championship and just the third from South America to do so --Roberto DeVicenzo and Angel Cabrera being the others.

*The 2023 PGA Championships heads to Oak Hill CC in Rochester, New York. Weather conditions for the mid-May event will be very interesting to watch when played there.

*The next major championship comes in June with the U.S. Open, played at The Country Club (June 16-19) just outside of Boston.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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