By Ann Liguori
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WFAN) — By winning the PGA Championship — and his first major in the process — Justin Thomas has finally emerged from the long shadow cast by his buddy Jordan Spieth.
Thomas, a 24-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, is only three months older than Spieth. They grew up playing junior tournaments together, competing against each other. They’re the best of friends, often vacationing together and practicing together.
But it was Spieth who broke out first, winning the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open titles. He just missed getting into a playoff by one shot at the Open Championship that year and was runner-up at that year’s PGA Championship.
Fast forward to 2017. Thomas won the SBS Tournament of Champions and then the Sony Open in Hawaii after shooting an opening-round, 11-under-par 59. In June, Thomas set a new U.S. Open scoring record relative to par, torching Erin Hills with a third-round 63. On the longest course in U.S. Open history, Thomas crushed a 3-wood from 310 yards on the 667-yard 18th and then drained an eight-foot eagle putt.
He was primed to win a major title and admitted there was definitely more than a sense of frustration watching Spieth have all of his success.
“Frustration isn’t probably the right word,” Thomas said. “Jealousy definitely is (laughter). I mean, there’s no reason to hide it. I would say anybody, they are jealous that I won. I was jealous that Sergio won; that Brooks won; that Jordan won. I wanted to be doing that and I wasn’t.”
With Spieth winning the Open Championship in dramatic fashion three weeks ago, which led to him garnering most of the attention early during PGA Championship week as he was asked non-stop about trying to win a career grand slam, Thomas flew under the radar, something that proved to be helpful.
“It was fine. It’s one of those things that it may get to some people or me a little bit,” Thomas said, “but at the end of the day, it is what it is. We’re just trying to play golf and play as well as we can.
“I just had an unbelievable calmness throughout the week, throughout the day…I had just the most comforting easy going (feeling). I truly felt like I was going to win,” Thomas added. “I remember my girlfriend was supposed to fly out at about 7 p.m. and I was like, ‘You need to change your flight to later, because I don’t know, I just feel like I don’t want you to miss this. I feel like I’m going to get it done.’”
And get it done, he did, in dramatic fashion.
Thomas’ birdie putt on the 10th sat on the lip of the cup for at least 10 seconds before dropping in. How that happened will forever remain a mystery. It was as if Thomas was destined to win and an unnatural force blew the ball in. Thomas then chipped in for birdie from 40 feet on 13 and followed up a gorgeous tee-shot on the par-3 17th with a 15-foot birdie putt.
Thomas stayed sharp and patient while the other dropped back.
And though Spieth never put himself in contention at Quail Hollow to complete the career grand slam — he finished in a tie for 28th — he hung around to watch Thomas and was one of the first guys to congratulate his buddy after it was over.
Now that Thomas has a big one on his résumé, sunshine has forever replaced the shadow.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori