ORLANDO – Justin Thomas and father Mike took a trip down memory lane, viewing a collection of old photos of Justin’s swing from as young as 1-year-old to more recent times, which were loaded on to an iPad.
Justin, who grew up to win the 2017 PGA Championship among 13 PGA Tour titles, smiled at the sight of himself whacking a golf ball with a plastic club.
“Not much has changed there,” he said.
And then there was the photo at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, which Mike identified as Justin’s 13th birthday. It had become a family tradition to play at a nine-hole course to celebrate Justin’s big day. This time, he was told that the family had to stop at Valhalla so his mother, Jani, could drop off some catalogs. When they arrived, Justin got quite the surprise with a round of golf at the home of past PGA Championships and the 2008 Ryder Cup.
“He was pretty fired up,” Mike said.
That would sum up Justin’s reaction to teaming with his father this week in the PNC Championship, a 20-team scramble competition among major champions and winners of the Players alongside a family member at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Grande Lakes Resort.
PNC Championship: The field, tee times, TV times, format
The tournament, which dates to 1995, historically paired a major winner with his son or daughter. It was 2017 when Justin Leonard became the first major champion to play with his father, Larry, 76, opening the door for Thomas, and potentially the likes of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth in the future, to play in the event formerly known as the Father-Son. Last year, Thomas played in the Presidents Cup in Australia the week before the 36-hole exhibition, so passed on the invite, but when he heard that Tiger Woods and son Charlie were considering playing, Team Thomas jumped at the opportunity.
“My dad’s exact quote was ‘I’m not getting any younger,’” said Justin, whose father is 61. “We figured let’s give it a shot and have some fun.”
Mike Thomas is pro emeritus at Harmony Landing Country Club in Goshen, Kentucky, and competed on mini tours before settling into teaching. He’s got some game, Justin says, though it may be a bit rusty.
“The biggest challenge for him is length. His game is respectable. He just doesn’t play anymore,” Justin said. “He’s going to be plenty helpful. I hope he tries to have as much fun as I do.”
Team Thomas is paired with Tiger Woods and his 11-year-old son Charlie in Saturday’s opening round. When Justin was 7 years old, he watched the final round of Tiger’s playoff victory over Bob May from the clubhouse at Valhalla at the 2000 PGA Championship. It was a moment that spurred Justin to pursue a career as a Tour pro. Justin and Tiger have formed a close friendship and teamed up at that Presidents Cup a year ago.
Among Mike Thomas’s most promising junior golfers? None other than Charlie Woods.
“Mike’s been impactful in him enjoying the sport and it’s so much fun for me to see Mike share a lot of his ways that he was able to spend with his son and we’re enjoying that,” Tiger said, noting that Mike’s been involved in Charlie’s development as a golfer “from the word go.”
For Team Thomas, it doesn’t really matter how they play this week in their tournament debut, it’s about quality father and son time competing on the golf course, just as they have done all the way back to Justin whacking balls with a plastic club.
“I don’t think I can put into words how cool Saturday is going to be,” Justin said. “This is going to be a great memory for me.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2020/12/17/justin-thomas-dad-mike-thomas-pnc-championship/