A year ago at this time, Justin Thomas was simply hoping to prove that his victory in the 2015 CIMB Classic wasn’t a fluke.
Thomas, 24, returns to the West Course at TPC Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia this week seeking a three-peat only a matter of days after helping the United States retain the Presidents Cup and being voted winner of the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year Award.
“I still am having a hard time grasping and understanding that I leave for another event in a couple days,” Thomas said after receiving the Jack Nicklaus Trophy that goes to the Player of the Year.
“It’s a tremendous honor. It really sunk in when I got the call from the commissioner (Jay Monahan). It was something I felt I may win because of … how the year played out. I was with my parents when I got the call, so I was able to kind of share the moment with them a little bit.
“Any time you can win an award with someone like Jack Nicklaus’ name on the award, it definitely means a lot.”
Thomas, who won the CIMB Classic by one stroke over Adam Scott of Australia two years ago on the strength of an 11-under-par 61 in the second round, repeated his title when he shot 64 in the first and last rounds to beat Hideki Matsuyama of Japan by three shots.
This week, he will try to go one better than Ryan Moore, who claimed the title in Malaysia in 2013 and 2014.
“I feel like I would have played a lot of courses really well, but (TPC Kuala Lumpur) obviously suits my eye, and I think the fact that there’s a lot of wedges and scoring clubs bodes well for me,” Thomas said after winning the first of his five titles in 2016-17 en route to capturing the FedExCup.
“It’s great to win again here. It’s obviously a place I’m very comfortable with and I think a lot of that is because of just everything that goes on here. I mean, the fan base and … everything is done very well. It’s very exciting to come back. This is by far my favorite place I’ve been out of the country or that we go to out of the country.
“It’s definitely worth the 24- or 25-hour travel day that it was to get here.”
Thomas followed that up by sweeping through Hawaii in January. He won the SBS Tournament of Champions by three strokes over Matsuyama before rolling to a seven-stroke victory over Justin Rose of England a week later at the Sony Open in Hawaii after opening with a tournament record 11-under-par 59.
Even though he cooled off a bit over the next several months, he posted four finishes in the top 10, including a tie for fifth in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills in June. However, he saved his best for a sizzling finish to the season.
The former Alabama All-American, who won six times for the Crimson Tide before turning pro in 2013, claimed his first major title by two strokes over Patrick Reed, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and Francesco Molinari of Italy in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.
A few weeks later, he shot 63-66 on the weekend to win the Dell Technologies Championship by three shots over his pal Jordan Spieth in the second week of the playoffs.
Thomas capped the season by finishing one stroke behind Xander Schauffele to claim solo second in the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta to wrap up the FedExCup.
So, where does he go from here? He is going to see three wise men.
“I’ll probably spend some time talking to Mr. Nicklaus or Tiger (Woods) because those are guys — those are the only people — or even Jordan, those are the only people I know that have had such success in one season multiple times,” said Thomas, who is ranked fourth in the world.
“I know how hard it is to do because of how deep the tour is right now and how many great players there are. … (The five-win season is) something that’s going to be tough to continue or tough to replicate, but I’m definitely going to give it my best.
“I know I’m going to have to sit down re-evaluate things at some point, because this just doesn’t happen every year.”
And he hardly had time to catch his breath before starting over.
–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre