Long-driving American has shown the ability to gear down for a track as tight as Colonial, site of the PGA Tour’s season restart next week. That skill should warrant more time in front of the TV camera for Thomas, though this time minus the microphone
It’s funny how a TV camera and a microphone can cause exponentially more people to pay attention to someone than usual. In just such a case, we give you Justin Thomas, newly minted star of the up-to-60-inch screen.
Thomas has been in the camera’s eye for much of the past six years, but it apparently took a mic in his hand at “The Match: Champions for Charity” to make him out-and-out famous. Thomas made his debut as an on-course commentator for TNT for the Tiger Woods-Peyton Manning vs. Phil Mickelson-Tom Brady spectacle May 24.
Turns out, he was a natural. He was economical with his words and had an innate ability of knowing when to say them. He blistered Charles Barkley, who is a big, wide target, which set viewers’ social-media accounts a-buzzing. His reviews the next day were downright rave, and Thomas said shortly thereafter that he’d like a chance at a TV career when his playing days are over.
It’s fine to have ambition and plans for the future, but Thomas is expected to be tied up for the next 20 years or so with his first career, that of a PGA Tour superstar, of which he is now a bit less famous than he is for his side hustle.
If you can be stealth as the No. 4 player in the world, Thomas has it locked up. He is perhaps the least appreciated, least talked-about and least noticed great player in the game. And it’s probably by design. He doesn’t call attention to himself, doesn’t have or promote an agenda, isn’t interviewed very often, doesn’t go crazy on social media and meticulously keeps his private life from going public.
And that’s the perfect recipe for staying out of the spotlight’s glare. However, Thomas deserves much more praise than he already gets for his golf game. It’s not as if he’s underachieving. In six years on the PGA Tour, he has 12 wins, including the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow. The PGA was one of five victories in 2017, which culminated with Thomas’ winning the FedEx Cup. And he’s only 27.
In his past 10 starts, dating to the end of 2019, Thomas has three victories among five top-6 finishes. And he was just as impressive in the Presidents Cup, particularly as Tiger Woods’ partner, winning twice with the American captain and once with Rickie Fowler for a 3-1-1 record for the victorious U.S. team.
Anyone who has seen Thomas knows he has all the tools. Along with Rory McIlroy, Thomas might be pound-for-pound the longest driver in the game. Last season, he was fourth in total strokes gained and second in strokes gained tee to green, second in approach shots and eighth around the green. If he has a weakness, it’s that he’s not the greatest putter in the world, but when you hit it and chip it like he does, you don’t have to go crazy on the greens to win.
All of which could make Thomas a good bet when the PGA Tour resumes play next week at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. (He was the No. 3 choice on DraftKings.com.) Given that the Tour has been dormant for 12 weeks since it was shut down March 12 after the first round of the Players Championship, the professionals are eager to play. And it’s why Colonial has attracted its best field perhaps ever. The top five players in the world are entered – McIlroy, Jon Rahm (No. 2), Brooks Koepka (No. 3), Thomas and Dustin Johnson (No. 5). And 15 of the world’s top 20 are in the field.
The top five, including Thomas, are all bombers, a type of player to which Colonial is usually unkind. Colonial is shorter by Tour standards and relatively tight, with a number of doglegs. Which is probably why hardly any of the five, including Thomas, put this event on their schedules.
Rahm is the exception. He tied for second at Colonial in 2017 and finished fifth in 2018, which might make him one of the favorites. However, he missed the cut last year, which proves that no one except Ben Hogan ever really figures out Colonial.
Thomas never has played a Tour event at Colonial, which could be a blessing or a curse, depending on whether he tries to blunt it with brute force or remains patient by embracing its nuances. However, he has posted four consecutive top-10s in the WGC Mexico Championship at Chapultepec, which is narrow and tricky, proving that he doesn’t need to bomb a course into submission to succeed on it.
Colonial will require all of Thomas’ skills. If he does succeed, it will serve as a reminder that he’s still a lot better playing the game than he is talking about it, for now and the foreseeable future.
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