Great job:Justin Thomas’ journey from Louisville high school golfer to PGA Tour star in search of third PGA Championship

Great job:Justin Thomas’ journey from Louisville high school golfer to PGA Tour star in search of third PGA Championship

LOUISVILLE, Ky. —Over the course of countless driving range sessions with Justin Thomas over the years, Jack Clare noticed a theme. Not only was Thomas, then his teammate at St. Xavier, consistently stellar, owning every shot – and shot shape – a golfer could want. But he was mind-numbingly consistent. When Thomas arrived at the range, he’d immediately grab two bags of golf balls; one bag, Clare remembers, inevitably would be dedicated solely to Thomas’ wedges. Each swing of Thomas’ club sent each ball nearly identical distances.

Genius at work.

“He was so good,” Clare said. “He could just do things that no one else could do. And you’d be like, ‘OK.’ You wouldn’t be surprised after a while. It became normal.”

What was ordinary for Thomas might as well have been impossible for others. Just ask another St. X teammate, Luke Jones. Taking lessons from Mike Thomas, Justin’s father, Jones partook in practice rounds with the younger Thomas from time to time at the family’s home course, Harmony Landing Country Club in Goshen. During those practice rounds, Mike Thomas urged Jones to pick Justin’s brain.

But there was a disconnect.

“There have been several times where (Justin) would tell me to stop for a second and say, ‘OK, let’s think about this shot one more time. Have you thought about punching out over the trees instead (of) punching out into the fairway sideways?’” Jones said. “Which was a great point.

“But at the same time, I would look at him like, ‘I can’t hit that shot. You can.’”

As the younger Thomas prepares to return to Louisville for this year’s PGA Championship, which will be contested May 16-19 at Valhalla Golf Club, those who knew him during his sparkling high school career at St. X reflect on the player they knew then, the accomplishments that followed – and his quest to return to the pinnacle of professional golf.

Dan Utley joked the biggest change he saw in Thomas during the golfer’s time at St. X was his physical transformation. Thomas started high school “100 pounds, soaking wet,” Utley noted.

“And he left 140 pounds, soaking wet,” said Utley, who was Thomas’ coach from 2007 through 2011, when he graduated.

Joking aside, Utley said Thomas’ most noticeable improvement was course management.

“We always talked about, it’s not a matter of, ‘Can you hit this shot at this moment?’” Utley said. “It’s, ‘Should you hit this shot at this moment?’ … Meaning, it’s the third hole of the second round. (Ask yourself), ‘Do I need to fire a high-cut 4-iron from 220 over a bunker to a tucked pin right?’ Yeah, you can hit that shot, but do you need to right now?”

That’s maturity, Utley said. Put another way, Utley described it as “the ability to manage the ability to hit a golf ball.” Knowing you can call upon any shot you need at a moment’s notice. But knowing to save it for the right time.

“Tiger (Woods) always says, ‘Just get me to the back nine on Sunday, where I’ve got a chance, and then we’ll watch the magic happen,’” Utley said. “And the more times you put yourself there, the more times you learn. And I think that’s what Justin’s (always done). He just kept giving himself opportunities.”

Thomas, who could not be reached for comment in time for publication, hasn’t let many go to waste. He’s already racked up 15 wins – including two majors, both at the PGA (2017 and 2022) – and earned more than $57 million since joining the PGA Tour in 2015. Thomas also has spent five weeks atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

Gifted as he is, none of it came by happenstance.

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