Justin Thomas’ Journey to the Masters
The roar from 18 was heard all around Valhalla Golf Club and was heard by millions across the nation. Tiger Woods had just knocked in a par putt to defeat Bob May in the 2000 PGA Championship. While Tiger Woods was raising the Wanamaker Trophy above his head, a seven year-old Justin Thomas realized playing Golf is something he wanted to do for a living.
“The first true memory I had of wanting to play for a living was after watching the PGA Championship at Valhalla,” Thomas said. “Being there and watching Tiger win got me motivated to want to play on that same stage.”
Thomas isn’t looking to win his fourth straight major this weekend, but he is looking to make his first trip to the Masters a memorable one. His journey to the Masters didn’t start when he turned pro, but it has been something Thomas has been working towards since he started playing golf at Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, Kentucky.
Just like golf was the perfect sport for Thomas, St. X was the perfect school for him. Thomas didn’t consider any other schools before deciding to go to St. X because it was “Tiger Tech all the way” for Thomas.St. X is expected to win tournaments and championships. During Thomas’ four year career, St. X brought home two state championships, and Thomas won one individual title. At State, Thomas finished tied for 13th his freshman year, 3rd his sophomore year, 1st his junior year and tied for 3rd his senior year with St. X winning the team title his sophomore and junior years.
“The brotherhood we had on the team and the state championships we won were amazing,” Thomas said. “Those memories and trips with guys won’t be forgotten.”
Thomas graduated from St. X in the spring of 2011 and took his talents to the University of Alabama. Thomas wasn’t intimidated by the college game at all. In his first year at Tuscaloosa, Thomas won National Freshman of the Year and National Player of the Year. He became the first Crimson Tide player to win his first career event and won the 2012 SEC Championship and the NCAA Athens Regional.
In his sophomore year, Thomas and Alabama routed Illinois 4-1 in the 2013 National Championship and won the first golf national championship in Alabama history.
“We had a close team that got along well, and I felt like we did a lot of stuff together,” Thomas said. “That was cool to me because I felt a lot of other teams never spent time together and weren’t bonded like we were.”
After the national championship his sophomore year, Thomas had to make one of the more difficult decisions of his life. He had the option to bypass his last two years of college and become a professional. Thomas decided turning pro was the right choice for him.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Thomas said. “At the same time, I knew it was the right decision and needed to be done at the time I did it. I loved the guys on the team and the coaches and that made it harder, but I knew I made the right choice.”
Thomas joined the Web.com Tour, and in his 20 events played on the tour, he placed in the top 10 seven times and won the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship. After one season on the Web.com Tour, Thomas earned his PGA Tour card after placing fifth on the Web.com’s earning list.
Thomas was a threat almost every weekend, but he had some difficulty in finishing the win. Thomas had chances at the John Deere Classic, Quicken Loans National and the Frys.com Open to get his first PGA Tour win, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“It bothered me and motivated me,” Thomas said. “I always have wanted to win at every level I’m playing at. I felt I could have. I should have won a few of those events but I knew at the same time, it just wasn’t my time yet. I tried to stay patient.”
His patience paid off on November 1, 2015 when Thomas won the CIMB Classic at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club in Bukit Kiara, Malaysia.
“That was a huge confidence boost,” Thomas said. “I knew I hit the shots and made the putts down the stretch when I needed to. It is going to do nothing but give me so much confidence down the road when I’m in similar situations.”
Because of his win at the CIMB Classic, Thomas earned his invitation to the 2016 Masters. Augusta National is one of the best looking golf courses in the nation, and Thursday’s round will be Thomas’ first round at the Masters and his first round at any major besides the U.S. Open.
What is Thomas looking forward to most at Augusta?
“The opportunity to hopefully be walking up 18 with a chance to win,” Thomas said.
The road to that potential walk for Thomas will start at 9:59 am on Thursday. Thomas is paired up with another first time Masters golfer in Emiliano Grillo and Dustin Johnson, who finished in a tie for 5th at last year’s Masters.
The Masters presents an opportunity for Thomas to step into the national spotlight. Much of the nation knows him by “Jordan Spieth’s Good Buddy”, but will that be different after this weekend? Can he become the first winner in his first appearance since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979? I guess we will just have to wait and see.