Justin Thomas won big again this past week, to the surprise of nobody. He overpowered a course (How does he hit it so far with that frame?!) that was perfect for his game. He finally won a tournament contested during normal broadcast hours (Hey, isn’t that one of the dudes from #SB2K16?). He got a congratulatory hug from Jordan Spieth (Wait, are they friends?).
The internet is now populated with enough told-you-so articles and columns on Thomas’ arrival that Golf Channel even found a stat to link him to Phil and Tiger. Even to the average golf fan, JT is a secret no longer. Was he a secret to begin with?
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If not for his multiple USGA titles as a junior, Jordan Spieth may have been viewed as the second-best golfer in his class; Thomas was THAT good.
A third-generation golf pro, he was digging balls out of the dirt before he was taller than the club he was swinging. (The best profile is from PGATour.com’s Sean Martin in 2015.)
He won over 100 times as a junior. He won six times in college, was national player of the year (over Spieth), delivered two SEC championships and the University of Alabama’s first national title. He was, is and will continue to be destined for greatness.
Why bring it up? Because it shouldn’t be a surprise.
Since the Golf Coaches Association of America started handing out the Jack Nicklaus Award for college’s player of the year in 1988, 24 men have earned that honor, including Thomas. Of that group:
- ALL of them have made it to the PGA Tour (Maverick McNealy excluded, as he is still in college at Stanford)
- Fifteen of those (65 percent) have won on Tour
- Four have reached No. 1 in the world
While naysayers will point out the “disappointing” careers of Alan Bratton and Brad Elder from that group, it is remarkable how consistently that college talent equates to winning at the highest level. The 65 percent winning percentage is diminished by the fact that time hasn’t allowed the more recent winners to taste victory. A win is coming soon for Kevin Chappell, or Patrick Rodgers, or Jon Rahm.
College golf’s best delivers more sure-fire professional winners than any other sport. And it doesn’t take the best very long to arrive.
The golf world shouldn’t have been surprised by Thomas’ ascent to No. 12 in the world. It should have expected it.
The Other Winner
Each week during the PGA Tour season, I will offer up one player who, while not winning, escaped unnoticed with a big finish.
Tony Finau – This was William McGirt’s spot to lose until a final-round 73 brought Finau into a tie for best finish by a first-timer at Kapalua. In reality, however, Finau needed it more. It was his first top-10 since he won in Puerto Rico last spring. The $172,333 check was also the seventh-largest of his career. Earning 75 FedEx Cup points goes a long way towards a playoff berth later in the season. His status is guaranteed for another year, but it’s a big deal to get some breathing room in a non-cut event.
Yes, the golf course is big and sets up well for him, but against some of the world’s best, he was fourth in strokes gained tee-to-green. Confidence is hard to come by, and those four rounds, while unspectacular, were steady and solid for the third-year Tour member.