TULSA, Okla. — With a father and grandfather who were golf instructors, Justin Thomas always had the genes for excellence in the sport. He became one of the top junior players, played in a PGA Tour event while in high school, and was named the top college golfer in the nation soon after.
In 2017, when Thomas was 24, he won his first major golf title, the PGA Championship. No one would fault the Thomas family for investing in a gigantic trophy case to house all the prizes to come.
Thomas has won his fair share of events on the circuit, but five years later hasn’t added to his collection of major championships, which he called an underachievement. “I haven’t even managed to perform well in my entire career at the majors,” he said last month.
At this year’s PGA Championship on Friday, Thomas was at the forefront of a burgeoning youth movement that took control of the standings midway through the tournament. Battling gusty and swirling winds at Southern Hills Country Club, Thomas mixed patience and aggression to shoot his second three-under par 67 in a row and position himself among the leaders.
Thomas has fought halfway through other majors since 2017 and failed to win, but he feels buoyed by a new mindset this season, which has been helped by a new experienced hand alongside him. in Jim Mackay, who spent 25 years as Phil Mickelson’s caddy.
“It’s still golf, so it’s pretty tough sometimes,” Thomas said after his round on Friday. “But I’m very, very happy with the state of things, the mindset and the mindset that I’m in.”
He added: “We’re halfway through this tournament so it’s still a long way from home.”
Mackay had occasionally caddyed for Thomas in previous seasons after parting ways with Mickelson five years ago. Eight months ago, Thomas asked Mackay, whose nickname is Bones, to take the job full-time.
“Bones is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,” Thomas said. “He never wants to be under-prepared. He wants to make sure he’s doing everything he can to make it look like we have the best chance of winning. And it’s very comforting as a player, because I have full confidence in my younger brother.
Thomas started his round Friday on the 10th tee and birdied two and bogeyed on his opening nine to make the four-under-par turn for the tournament. With impressive length off the tee – he averaged 312.2 yards in driving distance on Friday – he was able to level the first two tough par-4 holes, both of which were over 480 yards long. Two more pars followed on the third and fourth holes, and on the par-5 fifth hole he made a 24-foot birdie putt. After three routine pars, Thomas had an accurate drive on his final hole, and his 92-yard approach shot to the uphill, capped ninth green came to rest nine feet from the pin. Thomas then rolled calmly into his final birdie putt.
“I just feel very comfortable standing over the ball, which is a good feeling,” Thomas said. “The way I played the last hole, I couldn’t have drawn it better. Leave that fairway gap right under the hole over there and make that putt right in the middle. It was a nice way to end.”