Thomas attempting to join Rory & Padraig for rare double

Justin Thomas (Photo by Stuart Franklin/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Only a quintet of players have ever lifted the Wanamaker Trophy and the Claret Jug in the same year and our own Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington happen to be among them. 

McIlroy was the last player to complete the double when he picked up Majors three and four of his career in 2014.  

First, the Holywood star swept his way to a pillar-to-post victory at The Open at Royal Liverpool before a final round 68 a month later saw him pip Phil Mickelson to the US PGA title at Valhalla.  

McIlroy’s feat matched that of fellow Irishman Harrington who recorded his career-best year in 2008. Having kicked off his assault on the Majors with a fifth place finish at the Masters, Harrington romped to a successful defence of his Claret Jug with a four-stroke victory over Ian Poulter at Royal Birkdale before breaking Sergio Garcia’s heart at the US PGA at Oakland Hills.    

As for Justin Thomas, he completed the first leg of the double with a playoff victory over Will Zalatoris at Southern Hills in May. 

I was eight back with 10 holes to go. That’s unfathomable,” Thomas said of his unlikely win. 

If I was looking at leaderboards, I probably would not have thought I even had a chance to win. It’s a huge lesson for me. 

You’ve got to play golf. Those Majors and in golf tournaments, anything can happen. I just kind of kept plugging along, and somehow it happened.” 

Just 18 players have won both The Open and the PGA Championship in their career. As for the other three golfers who join McIlroy and Harrington as the only five to manage it in the one year, Walter Hagen was the first player to complete the double in 1924 before Nick Price matched him in 1994. Then the all-conquering Tiger Woods doubled down twice in 2000 and 2006. 

In the interim, Woods has become quite the mentor to Thomas, helping him break a Major duck that extended back to 2017. With arguably the game’s greatest player in his corner, and one of golf’s most successful caddies in Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay on the bag, Thomas will hope to go a few place better than a T11 at Portrush in 2019 and join some esteemed company when it’s all said and done on Sunday evening in St Andrews. But what has Thomas learned from Woods going into this week?

“It was the stories to me that were probably more enjoyable, talking about on 14 how he’s gotten it so in and off the left or in and off the right that you can’t get it past those bunkers,” Thomas explained.

“And because — then you can’t get over to Hell Bunker, he was talking about, I think he was playing with Langer, he would just send it over short left of the bunkers and then hit a 2- or 3-iron up the fairway and then a 4-iron onto the green.

“It’s stuff like that – he said he’s hit 3-wood on 11 before, a hole where, if it’s downwind, we’re probably hitting an 8 or 9-iron, different places the ball can go to. Just maybe opened my eyes a little bit to what can happen.

“I think sometimes — it’s nice to be playing well and hit good shots, but in the practice rounds I think you sometimes almost want to hit some bad ones, whether it’s on purpose or not, just to kind of see where the ball can truly go — see how those ones that are maybe a little offline that can ride the wind that maybe hit a slope that kind of keep going, where can it go, especially around the greens.”

Thomas accepts that there’s no hiding from his Open Championship record as he chases a rare double, though he was encouraged by his T11 result at Royal Portrush in 2019 and now hopes his love of links golf can translate into a big week at the Old Course.

“I love links golf,” Thomas said. “I get so excited and have fun every time I play it. But yeah, my links golf record speaks for itself. I’ve played terribly over here. It’s not hidden. I can’t fake it.

“I played really, really well at Portrush. I just had a bad finish. I got kind of caught in a little squall there on probably the worst hole on the course to be in and tripled to where it kept me from a top-five kind of thing. I’ve played well at the Scottish Open, obviously didn’t last week.

“But I mean a lot of it is just me understanding and getting used to, I think, just the conditions and understanding that it’s not, like I said earlier, it’s not the same as the States to where it’s like I’m going to hit this or this off this tee pretty much no matter what. It’s, like, if it’s into the wind, it’s this; if it’s downwind, it’s that.

“And wrapping my head around like the 1st hole might be a 6-iron come Sunday afternoon if it gets firm and gets downwind. Or if it gets into the wind, it might be a driver. Or this is a birdie hole most of the days, but some days it’s not.

“I think to me that’s been something I’ve realised, and something that’s hindered me in the past is that I just kind of — I see par-5 on the — I see a 5 on the scorecard, it’s a par-5, and my mind immediately thinks let’s try to make 3 or 4 where 5 is going to end up beating the field in terms of an average.

“I think that’s a lot of it. I think it’s harder to chip over here. It’s harder to create that consistent contact and spin to get a lot of those chips that maybe go to 1, 2, 3 feet go to 7, 8, 9. And statistically it goes from all up-and-downs to not getting them all up-and-down.

“It’s little things here and there. I feel confident that I will have more success in the future. And hopefully it just starts this week.”

Thomas plays alongside Shane Lowry and Viktor Hoivland for the first two days.

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