Justin Thomas emerged from the shadow of a longtime friend and won the PGA Championship to take his place among the young elite in golf.
With two big breaks to start the back nine, a chip-in for birdie to seize control and a timely 7-iron that soared over the water to a peninsula green, Thomas closed with a 3-under 68 for a two-shot victory.
The PGA Championship was the most fitting major for the 24-year-old son of a PGA professional. Mike Thomas, a former PGA board member and longtime pro at Harmony Landing outside Louisville, Kentucky, walked along the edge of the 18th green and into the arms of his son, a major champion.
The week began with Jordan Spieth’s quest for a career Grand Slam. Spieth was at the 18th green late Sunday afternoon at Quail Hollow, but only so he could celebrate the moment with Thomas, close friends since they were 14.
“So awesome, dude,” Spieth told him.
Thomas was every bit of that.
With five players still in the mix on the back nine, Thomas surged ahead by chipping in from 40 feet on the par-3 13th hole, and holding his nerve down the stretch as his challengers eventually faded, one after another.
Hideki Matsuyama, bidding to become the first player from Japan to win a major, recovered from back-to-back bogeys with birdies on the 14th and 15th holes to get within one shot. But the championship turned on the 16th hole.
Thomas faced a 6-foot par putt to stay at 8 under. Matsuyama caught a good lie over the green and chipped to 5 feet. Thomas wasted no time over the putt and drilled it in the center of cup. Matsuyama missed and was two shots behind.
“The last major of the year, and I was in contention,” said Matsuyama, a runner-up at the U.S. Open. “All I can do is try harder next time.”
Thomas sealed it with a 7-iron from 221 yards, so pure that he let the club twirl through his hands as he watched it clear the water and roll out to 15 feet. The birdie putt curled in and his lead was up to three going to the 18th. A final bogey only affected the score.
Thomas finished at 8-under 276 for his fourth victory of the year.
The PGA has been part of the Thomas family for three generations. Paul Thomas, his grandfather, was the longtime pro at Zanesville Country Club in Ohio who played in the 1962 U.S. Open. His father played at Morehead State and had aspirations of playing the tour that didn’t last long. Instead, Mike Thomas became a club pro who watched his son fall in love with the game and grow into a force on the PGA Tour.