The 18: Justin Thomas wins the PGA Championship

The 18 is a look at eighteen stories from the previous week or so in the world of golf, and they will usually be on stories that I didn’t dedicate a full post towards. Expect a combination of thoughts, GIFs, images and anything else that caught my eye from the past seven days. Some will be longer thoughts, and others will be no more than a line or two. 

The 18 will (hopefully) run every Tuesday. You can catch up on previous versions of The 18 right here.

1. This was coming, and not just based on the events from earlier this year. As the guys pointed out on the No Laying Up podcast, Justin Thomas was an incredibly celebrated junior and college player, who everyone knew was going to be a good professional. That he has gone on to this level of success really shouldn’t surprise anyone, but I think what has surprised me has been the supreme amount of confidence that not only was this going to come, but that it was going to come so quickly.

Thomas started the day two shots back of the lead, and when I think back on the round yesterday, he really did exude a level of confidence that it was still his tournament. He’s always been a super aggressive player, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that he kept that up over the final eighteen, but he didn’t shrink from the moment at any point and in fact, he seemed to embrace it each and every step of the way.

The bow towards Soly after his putt finally dropped on 10, the chip in on 13, the confident strut off of the 16th tee and crushing a 7-iron 220 yards on the 17th showed us a player who aside from having unbelievable talent, also has the desire to be on the biggest stage. Last year, when Thomas said that he would rather be on a winning Ryder Cup team than win a major championship, people were shocked and amazed that something like that could ever be possible, but when you watch the way he carries himself, it makes so much sense. He’s perfectly built for the Ryder Cup, and given what we’ve seen with players like Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie, winning majors should never be looked at as a foregone conclusion, but clearly Thomas felt like he was going to win one, and pretty soon at that.

There are probably lots of players on the PGA Tour who are as talented as Thomas, but there are few that have the kind of swaggering confidence dripping off of them the way that Thomas does. Rory certainly has it, and so does Thomas Pieters. Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter have an unreasonable amount of it, and peak Tiger will always be the benchmark, but make no mistake that Justin Thomas is at the top of that list, and he has every right to be.

The particulars:

  • Earns $1,890,000 and 600 FedEx Cup points for the win.
  • Moves from 14th to 6th in the Official World Golf Rankings and from 4th to 2nd in the FedEx Cup.

2. So, what does this mean in the grand scheme of things? In the short term, I think it’s going to take something absolutely monumental in the FedEx Cup Playoffs for someone to wrestle away Player of the Year honours from Thomas. He has four wins, including a major championship, and he posted a 59 at the Sony Open. Unless DJ, Spieth or Matsuyama put something crazy together over the final few weeks, it seems like Thomas has this thing locked up.

In the long term, there was a lot of talk on the broadcast about the youth movement, particularly when Fowler, Spieth and Bud Cauley were shown watching Thomas finish on the 18th and how it has essentially taken over. It feels like we’ve been talking about it for an extremely long time, but when you take a look at the OWGR, you can really see how much things have changed over the last few years. Seven of the top ten players are under the age of 30, with the only exceptions being DJ, Sergio and Stenson. When you compare that to this time five years ago, only two of the top ten (Rory and Webb!!!) were under 30, and you have to go all the way down to the 21st player in the world in Martin Kaymer to find your seventh. Things have changed, and while the older players are far from being non-factors, it’s clear that the youth have taken over and from all appearances, are here to stay.

This is what makes it difficult for us to ascertain where Thomas goes from here. He has prodigious talent, and with 5 PGA Tour wins and a major championship on his resume, he has already done more at 24 years of age than most will ever do on the PGA Tour, and he has tons of time left to do more. It’s going to be really tough though, and as good as he is, it’s really difficult to project anything going forward because of all the similar aged talent that surrounds him. Just as an example, let’s take a look at all of the players ranked inside the top-25 without a major championship win:

  • Hideki Matsuyama
  • Jon Rahm
  • Rickie Fowler
  • Alex Noren
  • Matt Kuchar
  • Tommy Fleetwood
  • Francesco Molinari
  • Paul Casey
  • Rafa Cabrera-Bello
  • Patrick Reed
  • Daniel Berger
  • Charley Hoffman
  • Kevin Kisner

Even if you think some of those guys are not major contenders, you still have a stout list of players who are trying to do what Thomas just did, not to mention all of the other players with major wins trying to grab another one. I’m certainly not betting against Thomas, but betting on him (or anyone else) is not as foregone of a conclusion as it was just a little while ago.

3. I’m going to go on an assumption that it won’t be too much longer before we start hearing the “when will Hideki win a major” calls, which happens to every top player once they’ve played enough of these things and haven’t broken through. With Hideki, there are two things to keep in mind:

  • His five PGA Tour wins have come at big time events (Memorial, two WGCs and Phoenix x2)
  • He keeps putting himself in the conversation.
    • Top-15 finishes in each major this year, and seven top-10’s in seventeen career major starts.

There would be cause for concern if these two things weren’t true. It’s going to come for him, just like it did with Thomas.

4. I don’t have a ton to say about the final pairing of Kevin Kisner and Chris Stroud, but it just seemed like they had very little juice from the first tee. Kisner will be back though, and I’m super interested to watch him play at the Presidents Cup because it just feels like something he’s cut out for. Not so sure about Stroud, who tried to play up the entire time on the weekend that he wasn’t nervous or concerned about winning the championship, and then went out there and looked like he was very nervous and concerned about winning the championship. That’s not an unusual feeling, and it’s something that should be expected in your first real run at a major, but I can’t say that I was buying his thoughts before the final round.

5. The strokes gained leaderboard, where Justin Thomas was just really solid in every single aspect of the game, but particularly on the greens. As always, this is with all stats courtesy of Data Golf and only features players who made the cut.

  • Off the Tee
    • Best: Rory McIlroy (+2.01)
    • Justin Thomas: (+0.72)
    • Worst: K.T. Kim (-1.75)
  • Putting
    • Best: K.T. Kim (+2.51)
    • Justin Thomas: (+1.81)
    • Worst: Anirban Lahiri (-1.68)
  • Tee to Green:
    • Best: Brooks Koepka (+2.92)
    • Justin Thomas: (+2.29)
    • Worst: K.T. Kim (-3.17)
  • Approach:
    • Best: Graham DeLaet (+1.87)
    • Justin Thomas: (+0.99)
    • Worst: Omar Uresti (-1.55)
  • Around the Green:
    • Best: Matt Kuchar (+1.62)
    • Justin Thomas: (+0.57)
    • Worst: Shane Lowry (-1.17)

6. For the most part, I enjoyed Quail Hollow and thought it was a good test, even if it didn’t end up being the bomber’s paradise that many predicted prior to the tournament. One of the things to look at for what constitutes a good major venue is the diversity of the leaderboard, and last week, we got a good mix of long hitters like Thomas, Jason Day and Oosthuizen to go along with Molinari, Kisner and Kuchar all finishing inside the top-10. The first three days of the tournament didn’t really produce a “major” feel, but I don’t think that had anything to do with the course itself, and I think it’s pretty obvious that we’re going to be seeing an awful lot of Quail going forward as it maintains its relationship with the PGA of America. I can definitely see not only another PGA Championship heading there down the line, but a Ryder Cup as well.

7. Unfortunately, what wasn’t good was the way CBS covered the tournament on the weekend. To be fair, I’ll start off with the good, which was that they used more Pro Tracer than I can remember them using in the past, Verne Lundqvist remains the absolute best and their camera work was really good.

The big problem though is the same one that we always talk about with CBS: they simply don’t show enough live golf shots. The amount of times that Jim Nantz has to say some kind of variation on “just a moment ago” is staggering, and they have a massive over reliance on pre-packaged segments that viewers probably don’t mind, but would simply prefer to be watching the actual action on the course. The biggest issue with them not showing enough live golf though is that the amount of commercials they need to get in to a broadcast is simply appalling. Weekend viewers were frequently treated to segments that would last 4-5 minutes before CBS went to commercial for 2-3, and it’s simply not a good viewing experience, bringing to mind the atrocious ‘extra point-commercial-kickoff-commercial’ death spiral that we’re treated to with the NFL every Sunday. Even Nantz knows it’s a problem!

Part of the reason that the PGA Championship doesn’t feel like a major when compared to the other three is the way that it is presented on television. So often, it felt like a regular PGA Tour stop last week, and it’s not good enough, especially with how good the NBC/Golf Channel and FOX broadcasts are at showing the actual tournament.

8. So, Rory finished tied for 22nd in a week where he was listed by many (myself included) as the guy to beat. I’ve done my fair share of Rory defending over the past few months, not because I think he’s above criticism, but more that I think we sometimes lack perspective when it comes to discussing this game, especially when it relates to the top stars. Then, we hear this after Sunday’s final round:

Part of the reason I wrote that piece linked above is that at the time, we really didn’t have much of an idea of how hurt Rory has been over the last few months. He’s mentioned it off and on, but if he’s talking about skipping the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai to get some rest for 2018, it must be bothering him quite a bit. Combine the injury with another equipment change, him getting married, the fact that the competition is getting better seemingly every week and the fact that golf is hard, and you have a perfect recipe for why someone is “struggling”, even if I think that idea is a little absurd.

There’s a very reasonable take that exists about Rory where he gets healthy, his personal life settles down and he gets fully dialled in with his new gear and we see a four win year out of him in 2018.

9. It was good to see Patrick Reed get himself involved on the weekend, even if it was ultimately too little, too late. He finally has a top-10 in a major championship, and even though there’s probably no chance that Steve Stricker would leave him off of the Presidents Cup team, a finish like this helps justify a selection after a pretty indifferent season to date. He can still qualify automatically of course, but if he doesn’t, it won’t feel like as much of a reputation pick as it otherwise would have, unlike someone else we’ll touch on in a second.

10. I really thought Louis Oosthuizen was going to take it on Sunday, and as Nantz mentioned on the broadcast, his runner-up finish now means that he’s done that in all four majors in addition to winning the 2010 Open Championship. For most players, that feels like the kind of thing that would gnaw away at their souls and make them question everything that they’re doing as a professional, but with Oosthuizen, I’m sure that he’s just fine to take the money and spend it on more farm equipment, and I love him for it. The fact that he’s as good as he is when he has the reputation of really not caring that much about how he does is amazing to me, and he obviously has a pretty good sense of humour about coming so close again.

Also, let this serve as a reminder to everyone of how insanely talented these guys are:

11. A quick note on Fowler’s T5: an idea was thrown out privately to me about how it was kinda crazy that Thomas has surpassed Fowler’s career in the matter of eight months, and I’d pump the breaks on that just a little bit. I’ve written a lot over the years about how we tend overvalue major championships in the sense that sometimes we don’t give enough credit to winning regular PGA/European Tour stops. With Fowler, we’re looking at a guy who at 28 years old, has six pretty big worldwide wins and a boatload of top 5/10 finishes in major championships while playing in all of the biggest tournaments against the best fields. He also hasn’t been outside of the top 15 in the world rankings since August of 2014. He’s really, really good at this and yes, he does need to eventually win one of these majors for legacy, resume, etc. but much like Rory, it feels like we don’t appreciate how good Fowler is just because someone else won multiple times this season.

12. Is there a more underrated player in the world than Francesco Molinari?

13. #BlimpGate is real, and its spectacular. It’s actually amazing that the blimp was flying as low as it was on Saturday, as it was actually audible on the broadcast.

Players and caddies were talking about it, and you couldn’t go a few shots on the weekend without it getting right in the middle of a CBS camera. It seemed much better on Sunday, but it was super strange for it to be as noticeable as it was on Saturday.

14. The three things that I’ll remember most about this tournament ten years from now:

  • Thomas, obviously.
  • Jason Day playing 18 on Saturday.
  • Rod “Pampling Ain’t Easy”

Legitimately, one of the best shots that has ever been hit in the history of the PGA Championship.

15. Jason Day looked like he had a great chance to win the tournament as he stood on the 18th tee on Saturday, and then the most inexplicable series of events that I can recall since Van de Velde happened after he sent his tee ball right of the fairway.

Instead of taking what appeared to be the easy play of chipping out to the left, Day tried to hit some kind of hook around all of the trees off the pine straw. His foot slipped, and even if it didn’t the odds of him pulling it off seemed super remote. He ended up behind that shrub, took a drop and made a quad, taking him out of the tournament. Apparently though, he’s good with the process.

I mean, maybe you do have that shot. I’ve said things like that on the course, and I’m sure all of you reading this have said that as well, but: chip out.

16. After a missed cut, Bubba Watson is now down to 53rd in the OWGR after dropping outside of the top 50 two weeks ago for the first time in seven years. What’s even worse for Watson? If he doesn’t post some good finishes before the end of the year, his quality results that happened at the end of 2015 are going to fall out of the points window, and we could be looking at a situation where he approaches the triple digit mark. I don’t think it’ll end up being that bad, but considering he was 10th at the start of the year, we’re looking at an incredibly serious fall from a player who is too talented to be that far down the list.

17. Not much to say about Jordan or Sergio this week except that it was pretty clear that neither of them really had it. I thought that Sergio was a decent fit for the course, but he wasn’t close to the cut, and Spieth just never got himself involved. The quotes afterwards about how the PGA will be the hardest for him to win to complete the Grand Slam were super interesting, but still think there are a few courses coming up on the PGA Championship rota, namely Bethpage, that feel awfully Spiethy to me.

18. For months, I’ve been talking about the worrying trends for Phil Mickelson, but I was shocked that he didn’t end up making the cut with his history at Quail Hollow and there’s probably greater cause for concern floating over him right now. I mean, he’s still obviously a really good player who will make a ton of birdies and will get into the mix a few times each year, but 2017 quickly became a lost year for a guy who is set to turn 48 next season. There have been good finishes to be sure, but there’s also been moments where he hasn’t been able to keep it together and a rare look vulnerability when he admitted that seeing his name at the top of the board in Memphis scared him a little bit. Throw in the Bones split, and it’s just really difficult to know what to make of him at the moment, and even harder to figure out what to project going forward.

It’s always possible that he turns it on in the playoffs, and justifies what is absolutely a lock selection at the Presidents Cup, but it just doesn’t seem overly likely at this point.

1 Comments on “The 18: Justin Thomas wins the PGA Championship”

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