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The hottest golfer in the world is 23-year-old Justin Thomas and his early season performance strongly suggests that he is about to join golfers like Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, and Dustin Johnson as part of the sport’s next generation of elite golfers.
At the Sony Open this past week, Thomas shot 27-under to win the event and set a PGA Tour record with a 253, the lowest score in a 72-hole event. He also opened the tournament with a 59, becoming the youngest golfer ever to break 60 in a PGA Tour event.
These were just the latest achievements for Thomas, who is absolutely on fire.
In six events so far this season, Thomas has three wins – including back-to-back wins in Hawai’i the past two weeks – four top-five finishes, and five top-eight finishes.
All of this sudden success appears to have been sparked, at least in part, by his drive to catch up with one of his buddies and also some time spent with Jack Nicklaus.
Thomas and Spieth have grown close over the years as both were top amateur players in the high school class of 2011. However, when Spieth had his breakout season in 2015, Thomas grew frustrated, according to Brian Wacker of the New York Times.
Spieth had one of the great golf seasons ever, winning the Masters, the U.S. Open, and taking home more than $23 million in earnings that season. Meanwhile, Thomas finished 38th on the Tour money list with $2.3 million and his best finishes were a pair of fourth-place ties in the Sanderson Farms Championship and the Quicken Loans National.
After the 2015 season, Thomas decided to call in a favor. According to Wacker, Nicklaus had previously told Thomas to call if ever needed anything.
At some point in the past year, Thomas took Nicklaus up on the offer and Nicklaus invited Thomas down to his house in Florida for a meeting. The two met for three hours, according to Wacker, and it included one lesson in particular that stood out.
“I had the same game plan during a tournament when I was playing bad as when I playing good: being just as aggressive, hitting at every pin,” Thomas told Wacker. “When you’re hitting it bad, you can’t do that. When I’m playing bad, I need to just hit the green. I remember that talk a lot.”
The lesson must have helped, because now Thomas is on top of the golf world.
Of course, as Thomas showed at the Sony Open, when he is playing well, he is not afraid to shoot for the pin. This was seen on the final hole of the opening round when he could have laid up on the Par-5 No. 18 and gone to the clubhouse as the tournament leader. Instead he attacked the pin, knowing he needed an eagle for 59.
He got it, and he did it right in front of his buddy, Spieth.