CRAWFORD | Louisville's Thomas shrugs off a finish to forget at Greenbrier Classic
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — This is why you take up golf at your own peril. Well, one of the reasons. The sudden and inexplicable change in fortune can happen to the best of golfers.
On Sunday in the PGA Greenbriar Classic, it did. Justin Thomas was cruising along, pulling himself into a tie for the lead after a birdie on the eighth hole.
At that moment, it couldn’t have been going much better for the Louisville native and St. Xavier High School graduate.
In its pre-tournament press release, the Greenbrier public relations crew called Thomas “a star in the making.” He had five top 10 finishes in his past 10 PGA Tour events.
On Thursday, he made his first-ever ace in competition on No. 18 at The Old White TPC Course, and won everyone watching in the gallery on that hole $500.
CBS announcers couldn’t stop from saying nice things about him as he stalked the leaders in the Greenbrier.
“He’s playing aggressively,” Gary McCord said. “He’s playing without fear for the consequences. I think, when he gets his first victory, it’ll really break it loose. He’ll get a lot in a short period of time.”
That may well happen.
But on Sunday, what actually happened next was 10 holes of hell. Perhaps he was a bit too fearless. He bogeyed No. 9. Then had a double bogey on No. 10. He parred four of his next five holes, with a bogey thrown in, but he shot a quadruple bogey on No. 16.
After tying for the lead on No. 8, he finished tied for 54th with a 43 on the back nine.
McCord, on CBS, put it as well as anyone after Thomas bogeyed No.13.
“This is the point in the day when you start talking to yourself,” he said. “Asking why you’re not a lawyer or how you could have gotten into the medical field instead.”
It was as painful a moment as I’ve seen for a local golfer since Kenny Perry lost The Masters in a playoff in 2009.
But there’s a big difference with this one. We all knew then that Perry didn’t have many shots at majors left. He was gracious in defeat, but I walked away feeling that Perry deserved that moment, he just couldn’t make it happen.
Thomas has a chance for many more such moments. But overcoming a 49-spot drop from Sunday morning to Sunday night is going to require a special kind of resilience of youth. Fortunately, the 22-year-old Thomas has plenty of that.
I remember going to cover him when he was only 16 years old and became the third-youngest player ever to make the cut for a PGA Tour event, in the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C. I wanted to write a nice column about the kid making the cut, but rain suspended the third round and he didn’t shoot a low enough score to reach the final round.
I caught up with him in the parking lot waiting for his dad, and when a valet came to shake his hand and pat him on the back, Thomas said, “Thanks, but I wasn’t very good today.”
Because he made such a splash at such a young age, you tend to forget how young he is. He won the Web.com Tour’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in a playoff late last year, and truly has had it going of late. It was natural to assume that he was ready to finally make his big breakthrough when he pulled into a tie for the lead on Sunday. Even with his Greenbrier finish, he’s 53rd on the PGA earnings list, with $1,433,747 in 23 events this season.
Now the challenge for the kid who was overly hard on himself at 16 will be to not be too hard on himself after Sunday. That's the kind of finish that would mess with most of us. Thomas, from his days at St. X to winning an NCAA title at Alabama, has not been like most of us.
Steve Flesch, FOX Sports analyst and PGA Tour veteran from Kentucky, was quick with public words of support via Twitter.
“I learned way more from my mistakes in my rookie year than my great rounds. You are ahead of the game Pal, stay patient,” he Tweeted to Thomas. “Can’t tell you how many chances I had my first few years and I pressed, when just another birdie or two would have been plenty.”
For his part, Thomas took to Twitter to congratulate winner Danny Lee, telling him “very impressive golfing.”
And then he poked fun at himself. He referenced Robert Streb, who made five birdies on the back nine and got into a playoff by putting with his wedge. He damaged his putter when throwing it to his caddie, so went to his 56-degree wedge of necessity.
Thomas Tweeted, “Maybe I should’ve gone Robert Streb on ‘em the back nine and putted with my wedge too. . . Haha played 62 great holes this week! #onward”
Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. Especially if you’re a golfer.
If Thomas can manage that, he’ll resume his race to the top soon.
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