Tulsa, Akla. – Justin Thomas hardly remembers his first PGA Championship five years ago, except for fans chanting his initials and 7-Iron, which he hit on the 17th, which actually won it for him.
Winning anywhere is hard even for great players – Thomas has been 14 months since his last – so when he climbed the hill towards the 18th Green during the three-hole playoffs, he made sure to soak up the big stage under the Pink Club in Southern hills.
“I knew it wasn’t over, but I looked up and wanted to accept it because you don’t know when and when it will happen again,” Thomas said. “And it’s such an incredible, cool feeling that you just want to enjoy it.”
Given how he arrived at the next PGA Championship, this major will be hard to forget.
Thomas was seven shots behind to start the last day. He hit his shin in the sixth hole of par-3, which could – probably should – end all chances for him. He hit back from 65 feet earlier on the back nine to stay in the game.
And then the major, who wanted so little – no star power at the top, no drama on the ground, no red shirt on Sunday when Tiger Woods left – turned into a pure theater of chaos and collapse.
A signature shot for Thomas was his 3rd tree on the 17th hole at 301 yards – second in the playoffs with Will Zalataris on three holes – so perfect that he allowed the club to spin in his arms as he soared over the creek and onto the green about 35 feet from the burrow for the birdie, which gave him the lead for the first time in the day.
Shin? Sometimes players use this term to describe a bad hit. Not this 5-iron.
“I just cooled it down,” he said.
228 yards were played in the hole. The tee passed 108 yards at a 45-degree angle, thankfully he didn’t find a creek behind the second green. The next shot hit a tree and landed 10 meters. And then he hit his caddy, which he described as a “low, sharp, prickly wedge” up to 18 feet and made a punch. It could have been as great a hit as any he had hit.
“It was the best stuffed animal I’ve ever done in my life, that’s for sure,” Thomas said.
He will remember this one.
The goldsmith remembered his own adventures in this yam, a gust of wind that sent his shot so far over the greenery that he disappeared into the hedge, obscuring the view of the South Hills along 61st Street. He scored a penalty and played next off the track cart.
Mita Pereira will never forget her birdie on the 17th hole, which stopped one turn from falling into the cup for a birdie that would have given him an advantage in two strokes. Or his driver who jumped over a ledge into a creek and resulted in a double bullet.
Instead of becoming Chile’s first major champion, Pereira has become a landmark in history as a player who led in the last hole of the major and lost by a double or worse. Phil Mickelson was the last player to do so at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
Will discuss whether PGA won this championship or lost. The back nine was littered with mistakes made by players who never won the PGA Tour and others who never fought in major competitions. Poor results were the same result of nerves as strong skittles.
But it should be noted that of the last 14 players who played Sunday, Thomas in the top 3 67 was the only one to break the par. And he played the last three holes of the tournament, including the playoffs, with six birds, seven pairs, no mistakes.
However, it wasn’t like anything that Southern Hills had ever seen in its legacy of hosting specialties.
It was a track where all seven major champions held at least a share in the last 36 holes. Excitement was rare. The only drama was at the U.S. Open in 2001, when Retif Guzen on the last hole of 12 feet held on to the top three and had to win the next day in the playoffs.
Ultimately, Southern Hills lived up to its reputation of producing great champions.
Six of the seven previous winners are at the World Golf Hall of Fame – Woods, Gusen, Nick Price, Raymond Floyd, Hubert Green and Tommy Bolt. The exception is Dave Stockton, noteworthy given his two PGA titles among his 10 wins.
The 29-year-old Thomas now has 15 wins and two majors. For the past 60 years, the only other players to achieve this under the age of 30 have been Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevin, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Rory McIlroy and Woods.
Thomas was more emotional in the Southern Hills than when he won at Quail Hollow in 2017. Part of that five years passed without a major, more than a year without a trophy.
“I think it’s easy to start letting in some doubts, just like,‘ Okay, what’s going to happen? When will this happen? Will this happen? ‘”
Good thing he didn’t ask how it would be. Even when it was over, it was hard to explain. And even if he hadn’t stopped at the 18th Green, it would still have been hard to forget.
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