While the playoffs begin this week with the Northern Trust, Justin Thomas knows there’s still a lot of golf to be played — especially with this year’s revised schedule.
The first event of the playoffs begins this week at TPC Boston followed by the BMW Championship, where Thomas is the reigning champion, and the Tour Championship the week after. Less than two weeks later, the U.S. Open will begin at Winged Foot.
Thomas, 27, has plenty to be confident about entering the playoffs: he’s No. 1 in FedEx Cup points, the No. 2 golfer in the world ranking and has the most wins on the PGA Tour this season.
However, the 13-time Tour winner insists he’s just warming up.
“I’m not trying to peak this week,” Thomas said Tuesday. “I’m trying to kind of start the upward climb to hopefully be peaking (at the Tour Championship) in Atlanta.”
This part of the season is usually busy for top golfers like Thomas, but rescheduling had packed the late summer with many of the season’s most important events. Thomas said usually he takes a vacation or finds time to relax after the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club.
This year, he’s going to have to keep grinding after the Tour’s annual stop in Atlanta.
“That release will come Monday after the U.S. Open this year. But it is different,” Thomas said. “And although for the time being, the most important thing is this week for me, but it’s these next three weeks, and wanting to play well for that, I also need to conserve my energy and make sure I’m staying in shape and doing everything I can. Because, you know, after a week off, I have to get ready to try to win a major.”
Despite the Tour suspending its season for 13 weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing chaos, the 2017 PGA Championship winner has had an impressive year so far. Thomas is the only Tour player to win three events this season: the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges, Sentry Tournament of Champions and most recently, the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. Collin Morikawa, Webb Simpson and Brendon Todd sit behind Thomas with two wins apiece. Thomas was also part of the winning Presidents Cup team in December, lost in a playoff at the Workday Charity Open and finished T-3 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
The successful abbreviated season gives him a shot at leading for the second-consecutive year headed into the Tour Championship under the FedEx Cup’s new rules implemented last season. After winning the BMW Championship and sitting at No. 1 in FedEx Cup points in 2019, Thomas began the Tour Championship with a two-shot lead at 10 under.
He lost the lead in the first round but finished the season’s final event T-3 at 13 under, five shots behind winner Rory McIlroy, after rounds of 70-68-71-68.
Thomas doesn’t want to let a lead like that slip by him again.
Justin Thomas plays his shot from the tenth tee during the final round of the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Photo by Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
“I do know that if I get to that spot once I tee it up on (Friday) in Atlanta, I will have a little bit better idea how to handle it because, I mean, it was weird, nobody in golf can say that they have ever teed up on (Friday) with a two-shot lead and leading the entire field, so I don’t know how to react, and nobody really would,” Thomas said. “But I feel like I didn’t handle it as well as I should have or I didn’t go about it the right way and I felt like if I put myself in that position again, I’ll handle it a lot better.”
While the playoffs are of immediate importance, Thomas is also looking forward to the U.S. Open. The former Alabama golfer joined Tiger Woods for a round of golf on Monday at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, to get a head start on preparing for the second major of 2020. It is scheduled for Sept. 17-20.
“It was really hard. I absolutely loved it,” Thomas said of the course. “It’s one of my favorite, if not my favorite courses I’ve ever played. It’s right in front of you. It’s not tricked up. It’s not — nothing hidden.”
Thomas said his trip to Winged Foot with Woods would be his only time visiting the course before September’s tournament. He decided to visit ahead of this week’s event at TPC Boston because of how he fared at the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco — a course he admitted he never played.
Thomas, who took last week off, finished the PGA Championship T-37 at 1 under after rounds of 71-70-68-70.
“To be perfectly honest, I was tired on Wednesday and Thursday, because I had never seen the course. I usually would never play on a Monday, especially after playing a tournament, let alone winning. I had to go out Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to play a practice round just because I needed to learn the course and get to know it.
“I was not going to make that mistake again for the U.S. Open and I was very fortunate with us playing up here in the north to just go check it out for two rounds, that way when I go there whenever I do decide to, I’m not completely starting from scratch.”
Thomas begins the Northern Trust on Thursday at 8:26 a.m. off the 10th tee. He’s in a group the first two days with Morikawa and Simpson.