JOHN MCHENRY: Small in stature, but Justin Thomas packs big punch

It’s been very hard to evaluate just how good the USGA’s decision was to take the US Open to Erin Hills this past week.

From a playability standpoint, the players’ reaction to the longest course in the event’s history has been largely positive.

Wide fairways and perfectly manicured greens have that effect, but many will also argue that this year’s tournament bore absolutely no resemblance to the claustrophobic layouts that typically confront players in a US Open.

Through 54 holes, there were already 49 rounds played in the 60s (par 72), with five players entering the final round ten-under-par or better — a remarkable stat given that in the whole history of the US Open, only six players have ever gotten to double digits under par.

Did the USGA get their Erin Hills set up wrong or did the week’s rain made the course too easy?

The great thing about last night’s final round was that there wasn’t a major champion in sight.

Our own Shane Lowry found out last year just how daunting the task was to convert a 54-hole lead in a US Open, but that task was made somewhat easier for last night’s competitors by the familiarity of the course set-up to a regular PGA Tour event.

The excitement of being in a position to win your very first major championship would have meant a restless night for all of the contenders. It’s understandable with such an opportunity at hand but for those serious about winning, yesterday’s preparation for their final round was as much about routine as anything else.

Experience counts here and those who were best able to control their thoughts and emotions would stand the best chance of hitting the required shots, making the vital putts and most importantly handling the all the stress that comes when competing for a US Open title.

Given that golf is a very fickle game — one that is dominated more by form than anything else — then it is important to look at the players whose form has been trending for some time.

Justin Thomas’s form in the 2017 season certainly establishes him as perhaps the greatest emerging American talent in the game of golf today.

With a scoring average of 69.68 and with three wins to his name already this year on the PGA Tour, Thomas, who turned professional in 2013, has both the confidence and pedigree to go a very long way in the game of golf.

 

For a small man, he packs a very powerful punch but more than that when hot he has the ability to go low.

Already this year he has shot a 59 in Hawaii, he has broken the all-time tournament low scoring record and of course on Saturday he torched Erin Hills with the most under par round (-9) ever recorded in US Open history.

Going into yesterday’s final round Thomas’s blistering form would have been a worry to his greatest competitors but in a roundabout way it would also have helped settle them as his proven credentials would have guaranteed that the last round, instead of being a cat and mouse game with everyone looking over their shoulders, afraid to make a mistake, was more likely to be a birdie fest where the bravest sharpshooter came out on top — quite unlike anything we have witnessed in US Open history before.

Thomas has that kind of ability, and he’s fascinating to watch…. but yesterday’s opportunity was for no ordinary PGA Tour Title.

It was for a Major and for all of his time and effort spent on creating the perfect golf swing, the putting stroke, the perfect “golf body,” the one skill that was absolutely vital for him and his other competitors yesterday was the nerve and ability to “close out” the tournament when the opportunity presented itself.

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