Nick Bonfield looks at why Justin Thomas' season was one of the best in PGA Tour history
Why Justin Thomas’ Season Was One Of The Best In PGA Tour History
Goals are integral for professional sportsmen – they help focus the mind, give a sense of purpose and provide a barometer against which success is defined. Still, it’s incredibly rare for every single goal to be ticked off during a particular season.
Thomas came so close to achieving all of his, which is mightily impressive when you study the list below. That’s why I think his season deserves to be considered as one of the very finest in the history of the PGA Tour in the wake of his FedExCup triumph.
I know numerous players have recorded statistically superior seasons, but historical context is significant. For example, Byron Nelson won 13 consecutive titles in 1945, and Ben Hogan won five times, including three Majors, in 1953. But the disparity between top and bottom was so vast back then it’s almost unfair to compare the two eras.
In my mind, only two seasons in the modern era sit above Thomas’. I know Vijay Singh won nine times in 2003 en route to becoming World No.1, but Tiger Woods was going through swing changes at the time and the strength in depth just wasn’t what it is now. To be honest, it wasn’t anywhere close.
The two PGA Tour seasons I’m referring to are Jordan Spieth’s in 2015 and Tiger Woods’ in 2000. Woods won three Majors Championships and six other PGA Tour events in just 20 starts, while Spieth won the year’s first two Majors, the Tour Championship, the FedExCup and two other PGA Tour events at the age of 21 and 22.
But back to Thomas. Here’s what he set out to do in 2017 (taken from the notes section of his iPhone):
Qualify for the Tour Championship
Win at least once
Be in final two groups of a Major on Sunday
Win a Major
Make Presidents Cup
+.25 or better in Strokes Gained: Putting
Above +1 in Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green
Top 10 in all-around stats
Under par on par 3s, 4s and 5s
Top 30 in scrambling
Top 10 in half my starts
Under 70 scoring average
He achieved all but two, finishing 54th in Scrambling and marginally over par on par 3s at 3.04 (he was under par on both par 4s and par 5s).
His remarkable season was sparked into life in October last year, when he successfully defended the CIMB Classic in Malaysia.
In the first event of 2017, he held off Hideki Matsuyama to land the SBS Tournament of Champions. The following week, he became the seventh player in PGA Tour history to shoot a 59 en route to a third victory of the season at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Naturally, a lull was inevitable, but ‘lull’ is a relative term. He didn’t win between February and July, but he recorded three top-fives and came 9th at the US Open. In that event, he shot a third-round 63 to match the all-time low round in a Major.
It wasn’t long before he returned to the winners’ circle. At the USPGA Championship, Thomas produced a nerveless final-round 68 to secure his maiden Major Championship with his dad, a PGA professional, watching on.
The FedExCup play-offs began two weeks later and Thomas’ form carried over, with a victory in the Dell Technologies Championship ensuring his destiny remained in his own hands heading into the Tour Championship. Only Xander Schauffele’s brilliance deprived him of a sixth victory, but a second-place finish secured FedExCup glory and a $10m bonus.
He produced displays of sheer brilliance all season long and showed an innate ability to rise to the occasion when placed in pressure-packed situations. Let’s also not forget that he’s just 24 years of age and playing in an era with more world-class players than ever before, all of whom ply their trade on the PGA Tour.
With the staggering amounts of money on offer in professional sports today, it’s quite hard to present an argument about a particular individual being truly ‘deserving’ of such riches.
If anyone is, it’s Thomas. As a European, I’m very concerned about the prospect of him bolstering an already strong American team at next year’s Ryder Cup.