It was inevitable that Justin Thomas would win a major golf championship. His talent had been apparent since he was in grammar school. Sooner or later he would win a big one like his pal Jordan Spieth.
Sooner arrived on a humid Sunday at the 99th PGA Championship, when player after player, five in all, held or shared the lead until there was the 24-year-old Thomas holding it for good.
He had shot a 59 in Hawaii, a 63 in the U.S. Open in June. Nothing seemed impossible for the kid who is the son and grandson of golf pros. He was small, 5 feet 10 and 145 pounds, but he could hit it a mile. And he was driven.
Now, after shooting his third straight sub-70 round at Quail Hollow, a three-under-par 68, he has hit the jackpot, taking the year’s final major by two strokes with a score of eight-under 276. Francesco Molinari, Patrick Reed and Louis Oosthuizen shared second at 278.
Hideki Matsuyama, in first for a while, and Rickie Fowler, who had four straight birdies on the back nine and shot 67, were fifth at 279. Kevin Kisner, who led Thursday, Friday and Saturday? He shot 38 on the back and 74, tumbling to a tie for seventh with Graham DeLaet
“Just not making the putts that I need to win a major championship,” Kisner said.
Thomas made enough of them, made a monster one for a birdie three on No. 9 that he said spun the tournament his way, made a lucky one on No. 10 that seemed destined to hang on the edge and then, as Thomas neared the cup, plopped in while the crowd screamed.
He no less made a putt for a bogey on the very first hole after driving into a bunker.
“Starting with a double there would have been terrible,” he said. “I absolutely murdered that drive. It was 350 to the bunker.”
Distances have never been a problem for Thomas, whether physical or mental. It doesn’t hurt to grow up with the game, yet he worked at it intensely in high school in Louisville, Ky., later playing for the University of Alabama. When something went wrong, he was obsessive about making corrections.
Very little went wrong at the PGA where after the final putt he was greeted by, in addition to his family, Fowler, Spieth and other young pros.
“I just had an unbelievable calmness throughout the week,” said Thomas, who began the round two shots behind Kisner.
“I kind of hate to say this, but I’m never one — I’m kind of superstitious and weird about people saying stuff, like let’s go out and get it done. … I truly felt like I was going to win.”
And he won, for the third time in the calendar year but of course the first time in one of tournaments that really matter. He’s now two behind Spieth, against whom he has dueled since they were teen-agers and as close friends who often pull practical jokes on one another.
For the moment, Thomas gets to laugh.
Thomas said he was shaken briefly by the first hole.
“I couldn’t have drawn up a worse start to my Sunday at the PGA Championship. Easy bunker shot and I thinned it.”
The 63 he shot in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills was, in relation to par, the lowest round shot in a major until Branden Grace had a 62 in the British Open. Thomas didn’t feel he would win that tournament, but said what he learned under pressure there helped him win the PGA.
“Any time you can play and be there you learn little things without knowing it.”
A few years back Thomas, asked with whom in sports he would like to change places, answered: “Kobe [Bryant] because he’s the man.”
In the 99th PGA Championship, the man was Justin Thomas.