August 13th, 2017

Reed's thoughts on St. Xavier alum historic win

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor 

 Reed's thoughts on St. Xavier alum historic win
Justin Thomas does a fist pump after winning the PGA Championship / photo from

The birdie putt on No. 10, maybe a six-footer, rolled toward the hole, destined for glory. At least, that’s what Justin Thomas thought. He figured he had read it perfectly. He waited for the ball to drop and the roar from the gallery gathered around the green there at the Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte, N.C.

Except the Titleist IV didn’t drop. It hung there on the lip, teasingly. For 12 seconds, it hung on the lip while the gods of golf debated on whether Thomas, the 24-year-old prodigy from Louisville, deserved to be rewarded as he attempted to win the 99th PGA Championship, one of golf’s four major titles.

Now 12 seconds may not seem like a long time. A fast thoroughbred can run an eighth of a mile in 12 seconds. A baseball can go from a bat to bleacher seats in less than 12 seconds. But when you’re a pro golfer trying to win your first major against the best field in the world, well, 12 seconds is an eternity.

It was long enough for Thomas to turn his back to the hole and say a few choice words before he spun back around to watch, agony twitching at the edges of his smile.

Then the ball dropped into the hole.

The gallery exploded in joy.

And a semi-dazed Thomas exchanged a fist-bump with caddy Jimmy Johnston, doffed his blue Titleist baseball cap and bowed to the gods of golf, and then did an exaggerated shrug for the crowd and cameras, much as North Carolina basketball god Michael Jordan had done after making an impossible shot in an NBA playoff game.

Of all the amazing shots that Thomas made on his way to a final-round 68 and a two-shot victory over runnerups Patrick Reed, Francisco Molinari, and Louis Oosthuizen, the 12-second putt on the lip will be remembered and celebrated far more than his 14-foot bogey putt on No. 1, his long snake of a putt for a birdie on No. 9, the birdie on No. 13 that enabled him to break away from the pack, and the birdie on the par-three 17th that pretty much sealed the deal.

The only sour note, at least for fans in Thomas’ hometown of Louisville, Ky., was that Justin was introduced as being from someplace in Texas as he walked onto the final green to much applause and cheering. He may be living in Texas now, but come on. Justin is as much Louisville as Churchill Downs and Cherokee Park.

A grandson and son of PGA club professionals, Justin learned the game from his father, Mike, who has been the pro at Harmony Landing golf club, just off U.S. 42 in Goshen, for about as long as Justin has been on this earth. To this day, Mike is his coach. Justin also went through Louisville’s Catholic School system, graduating from St. Xavier in 2011.

Texas? That’s the home state of Jordan Spieth, who is Justin’s closest friend on the Tour. It’s the home of Reed, who was able to tie for second when Kevin Kinser, who led most of the tournament, faltered on the back nine of the final round. And, yes, Texas is the home of golfing legends Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, and Ben Crenshaw.

But Thomas belongs to Louisville every bit as much as Bobby Nichols, the only Louisville native who had won a golf major until yesterday. Like Thomas, Nichols graduated from St. Xavier. Also like Thomas, his first – and only – major came in the PGA. That happened in 1964 at the Columbus Country Club, when Nichols went wire-to-wire and withstood a late charge by Jack Nicklaus on his home course.

At the time, Nichols was 32, or eight years older than Thomas is now, and he didn’t engender the kind of anticipation that now surrounds Thomas. This was Justin’s fourth victory of the year, most on the Tour, and CBS announcer Jim Nantz floated the idea that he might be the front-runner for Player of the Year.

Known in his younger days for impatience and having a bit of a temper, Thomas was a model of cool in Charlotte’s heat. Although he said he “acted like a child and threw a little tantrum” while the ball was hanging on the lip on No. 10, nobody noticed. He looked like he was resigned to being another dogged victim of inexorable fate, as a long-gone writer described the game.

But then dang if the ball didn’t drop.

Thomas might have won if the putt had stayed on the lip, but making it certainly put him into a winning frame of mind. There’s nothing like getting a sign from the golf gods that they’re smiling on you.

So when there was a five-way tie for the leader after 12 holes, it was Thomas who made another birdie while his rivals were missing greens and putts. Suddenly Justin was alone at the top, but he didn’t change his game plan.

“Just patience,” he told CBS after receiving the Wannamaker Trophy. “No matter what happened, I was going to keep my patience. Then it was just a matter of seeing if my game was good enough. The adrenaline was unbelievable, the ball going so far in that heat.”

For the record, Thomas shot 73-66-69-68 for a 276 total. He earned $1.89 million. But most importantly, he certified the talent and potential that has defined him ever since he was a kid hitting shots on the Harmony Landing practice tee until it got too dark to see.

Like almost everyone else on the Tour, where the difference between great and merely good is a thin a margin as there is in sports, Thomas is dedicated to this craft. However, his dad did admit earlier this year that he’s something of a clothes horse who owns a ton of golf apparel and shoes.

He won the PGA Championship wearing a dark pink shirt with only a Polo logo on it, a start contrast to Kinser, who wore so many logos on his cap and shirt that he came as close to looking like a NASCAR driver as a golfer can come. But that, too, will change. Young and handsome, Thomas will spend the winter sorting through all kinds of endorsement opportunities.

Surely some creative company will come up with a commercial involving the 12 seconds Thomas had to wait for the putt to drop on No. 10. Something like, “If we don’t answer your call in 12 seconds, you get a free pizza.”

Stuff like that happens when the golf gods decide that it’s your turn.



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