Justin Thomas plays a shot off the second tee during the first round of the 2017 Hero World Challenge. (Ryan Young)
By Dave Shedloski
Among Justin Thomas’ foremost Christmas memories is how his parents always held back a surprise gift that they kept hidden until he had opened all of his other presents. One year, the big gift was a Scotty Cameron putter tucked under the couch.
This year they might as well skip the whole thing.
Christmas, of a sort, came early and often for Thomas in 2017. He won five times, including back-to-back events in Hawaii to start the year, captured his first major in August at the PGA Championship, and capped things with the FedEx Cup title and its $10 million bonus. He was a shoo-in for PGA Tour Player of the Year when it was announced in October.
Naturally, this presents a dilemma.
“My parents and my girlfriend get so mad because they said it’s hard to get something for someone who already has everything,” Thomas said Monday during a teleconference. “I told them I don’t need anything. I don’t want anything.”
Not true. There are three other majors he’d like to win, not to mention other tour titles. Of course, those aren’t exactly things you find under the tree on Dec. 25.
Otherwise, life is good for the Goshen, Ky., native, who has been laying low the last few weeks in anticipation of ramping things back up quickly in 2018. He’s set to defend his title at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Resort in Maui the first week of January. Then he’ll play in the Sony Open in Hawaii, where he shot an opening 59 to spur a wire-to-wire victory.
The rest of his 2018 schedule will look largely the same as this year. The trick for Thomas is to not gauge the new season based upon his break-out 2017 campaign.
“Just as the year goes on, trying not to compare this year to last year,” Thomas said of one of his biggest upcoming challenges. “Say, if I’m halfway through the year and haven’t won yet, or if I haven’t played well. Or even if I have played well but just not as well. I know I’m constantly going to get reminded of what I did this [coming] year compared to last year. Whether it’s better or worse. The hard part is going to be staying in the moment and recognizing it’s a new year. It’s a new opportunity for great things, and I just need to continue to work hard.”
While Thomas, 24, doesn’t share his list of goals for the coming year, he doesn’t hesitate to point out some areas that need improving.
“I look at stats a lot. The driving distance is fine, but I would love to start hitting more fairways,” he said. “Inside 10 feet putting I want to get better. I wanted to be better at outside 10 feet last year, and I did, but then inside 10 feet I struggled.”
What isn’t a struggle is finding motivation. Though he won $9.9 million to go with his $10 million FedEx Cup bonus, Thomas has little trouble gearing up for a new season. Financial rewards do not figure in his calculations for success.
“I truly don’t [think about money] … it’s hard to explain,” he began. “Obviously, I’m excited. It’s nice. Never have I said I am playing golf to win this money. I truly am playing because I want to win a lot of golf tournaments. I want to win majors, and hopefully I’ll have a Hall of Fame type career. The money is just a bonus. I’m sure a lot of people don’t believe me, but I’ve never thought about the money.
“It’s what I love. Playing golf and competing to win is something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a little kid.”
Call it the gift that keeps on giving.