CHARLOTTE (North Carolina) • Justin Thomas yearned to win a Major, any Major. Competitors cannot be choosers. But the PGA Championship, the Major that celebrates largely unheralded club professionals like his father and grandfather, had added lustre in his eyes.
He might have followed his forebears into the teaching side of the game if not for the arrival of the PGA Championship to his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, in 2000. Then an impressionable seven-year-old, Thomas was introduced to golf at its highest level and Tiger Woods, who won the tournament with a game and an aura that captivated him.
Three weeks ago, Thomas was perhaps provided the final piece of inspiration needed to press home years of promise. As close friend and Open Championship housemate, the 24-year-old swigged from the Claret Jug won by Jordan Spieth.
On Sunday, it was his turn to taste Major glory. He closed with a gritty three-under 68 at Quail Hollow to lift the Wanamaker Trophy.
With a 72-hole total of eight-under 276, he finished two strokes ahead of the runners-up: Francesco Molinari and Patrick Reed, who both closed with 67s, and 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, who posted a 70.
A week that started with Spieth seeking a career Grand Slam ended with Thomas reaching a sublime family milestone.
"It's just a great win for the family, and it's a moment we'll never forget," he said.
The number of seconds Justin Thomas' golf ball hung on the edge of the cup before dropping for a birdie at the par-five 10th.
Before Thomas, the last 17 Major winners shot under par in the first round. The American opened with a two-over 73 at Quail Hollow.
His father, Mike - his first teacher - was one of the first to congratulate him as he walked off the green of the par-four 18th after an anti-climactic bogey.
It capped a round that began with a harrowing bogey at the par-four first. He made a birdie at the par-four second, and did not get frustrated when his par putt at No. 3 burnt the edge of the cup, or when he just missed a birdie at the fourth, or when another birdie putt grazed the edge of the hole at the fifth.
He birdied the seventh, ninth and 10th holes - the last on a putt that hung on the lip for more 12 seconds before falling in.
"I acted like a child and threw a little tantrum, and then it went in, so I didn't look so bad," he said. "I did a little fit and gravity took over."
Soon, he found himself in a five-way tie for the lead with Molinari, Hideki Matsuyama, Kevin Kisner and Chris Stroud. One by one, the other players fell away.
When he holed a chip from the fringe for a birdie at No. 13, he suddenly found himself ahead by two. But it did not take him by surprise.
He was so confident going into the final round that he insisted that his girlfriend change her 7pm flight out of Charlotte on Sunday so she would not miss a celebration.
"I truly felt like I was going to win," he said.
The victory was his fourth of the wraparound season after last year's CIMB Classic in Malaysia and two January events in Hawaii, the Tournament of Champions and Sony Open, where he become the seventh PGA Tour player to shoot a 59.
He flirted with a Major breakthrough earlier in the year, when he recorded a third-round 63 at the US Open, only to fade and tie for ninth.
"At the US Open I learnt I needed to be a little more patient to win," he told Boston Herald. "I felt I had the game to get it done. It was just whether I would."
He got the job done, fulfilling a promise he made many years ago.
"Like all kids he said he would (win a Major when he was) around five or six," Mike recalled. "I said that too, but I sucked."
For the Thomas household, the final round of the PGA Championship followed the perfect script.
NYTIMES, THE GUARDIAN