Heading into the 2020-21 season, Justin Thomas had already established himself as one of the game’s elite. He had 13 PGA Tour wins—including a five-win 2017 season that included capturing the PGA Championship and FedEx Cup.
But last season was a bit of a roller coaster for Thomas. He added another win at The Players Championship, but had just six other top-10s in 23 starts, half the amount he posted during his standout season in 2017.
"I just wasn't showing the consistency that I feel like I could or finishing off tournaments how I felt like I could. I was close to playing well for a while, but just wasn't really able to get much result-wise out of it,” Thomas said.
Thomas was one of the game’s best ball-strikers—he finished third in Strokes Gained: Approach and Strokes Gained: Tee to Green—last season, but his struggles came at the hand of a balky butter.
Difficulties on the green aren’t new for Thomas. His career-high rank in Strokes Gained: Putting is 43rd, but he has finished outside the top 100 in each of the last three seasons.
Thomas has made one big change as he begins his 2021-22 season this week at the CJ Cup, as Jim “Bones” McKay will replace Jimmy Johnson as his full-time caddie beginning this week.
Thomas and McKay have worked together before—McKay was on the bag for Thomas’ win at the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational in 2020—but Thomas acknowledges that there will be an adjustment period.
“I think it's going to be something where we'll just kind of learn,” Thomas said. “Obviously I'm comfortable right now and I think he's comfortable now, but I'm sure as more and more events go on, like anything, you just get better and better. At least that's the hope.”
Thomas returns to the PGA Tour fresh off a confidence boosting win at the Ryder Cup, where the US team topped Europe by a record score of 19-9. Thomas believes the team truly developed chemistry that allowed them to have success, which should carry over to individual stroke play.
“I don't know if it's just the age of the guys on the team to where we're maybe just a little bit more laid back or whatnot. We’re all fiery and competitive but we also like to have a good time and I think it was a great mixture,” Thomas said. “I took a lot out of it just because of how well we did and how well all the vice captains did for us, it just was fun.”
The CJ Cup was originally held in Jeju Island, South Korea, but it is being hosted in Vegas for the second straight year due to the pandemic. But Thomas has plenty of good memories from this tournament as he won two of the first three editions of the event in 2017 and 2019.
Summit Golf Club is a long way from Jeju Island, South Korea, but Thomas hopes his success has made the (shorter) trip this week. He was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Korean fans had dubbed him the icon of the CJ Cup.
“I wish we could be spending this time in Jeju island. I have a lot of great memories there, developed a lot of great friendships and relationships. It's a cool place and a great week. The golf course, the food, the hotel,” Thomas said. “Obviously the travel's a little bit easier this week just coming to Vegas versus Jeju, but it's a great tournament and it's great to see a lot of familiar faces and hopefully we can recreate some of the good memories here in Vegas.”