By Tyler Olson
It seems Justin Thomas is no longer content being known to the rest of the golf world as “Jordan Spieth’s friend who is on the PGA Tour too.”
Most know that Thomas had an impressive amateur career alongside Spieth, including a strong stint at the University of Alabama and a made cut at the 2009 Wyndam Championship at the ripe age of sixteen. He just hadn’t yet made much of a splash on Tour since he earned his card in 2015.
Within the past four months, however, it appears the era of Justin Thomas has come. He took the CIMB Classic in October then won the Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in the last two weeks. Thomas is now up there in the discussion for the hottest player in the world right now with Hideki Matsuyama, who finished T27 at the Sony.
Oh, and not to mention the fact he shot a 59 last Thursday and finished the Sony with the lowest 72 hole score in PGA Tour history.
It will be interesting to see if he keeps up this level of play and manages to put up numbers in 2017 circa Spieth 2015; both he and Matsuyama are just about on track to do so.
Thomas’ game is quite interesting in that he is not dominant in one statistical category or another in the way many of the game’s top players are. He doesn’t drive the ball like Dustin Johnson or Rory McIloy. He doesn’t putt like Spieth. He doesn’t strike his irons like Henrik Stenson. Thomas simply has a strong and well-rounded game that allows him to score well without being “elite” at any one element.
Looking at his stats from the 2016 season, his best statistical category was strokes gained on approach to the green. He was 20th. Yet still, he managed to finish 10th in FedEx Cup points.
Fast forward to this season, in which Thomas has three wins already, all his strokes gained stats are 5th or worse on Tour. However, his total strokes gained ranks 2nd. That’s because all but one of these categories (strokes gained around being the outlier at 77th) are 10th or better.
The man simply doesn’t have a weakness. McIlroy has putting woes. Spieth lacks explosive distance. DJ (used to) struggle with his wedges and is still just slightly above average around the green. Justin Thomas has none of that.
It will be interesting to watch what happens when he inevitably goes head to head with one of these modern titans of the game down the stretch on a Sunday. Will he be simply overpowered by DJ’s pure distance or overwhelmed by Spieth draining every single putt? Or will he outlast the others by not making any mistakes?
Thomas’ sudden vault to near superstardom also underscores another point we need to keep in mind nowadays; there will not be another Tiger Woods in this generation. Period.
A graphic put out this week by Jamie Kennedy, a social media manager for the Euro Tour, shows us why. In his first 94 events as a professional, Tiger Woods had 24 wins, 63 top 10’s and a single missed cut. Next behind him is Spieth with 9 wins, 45 top 10’s, and 13 missed cuts. Phil Mickelson, Thomas, McIlroy, and Jason Day round out the list with progressively declining numbers.
The PGA Tour is so stacked with talent nowadays that no one individual, no matter how talented, will ever achieve the kind of success that Tiger did in his prime. 30 years down the road, when these guys are on the Champions Tour, who knows what may happen. But for now, it’s time to put an end to the Tiger comparisons.