Thomas sets U.S. Open record
ERIN, Wis. – Erin Hills may have been formed thousands of years ago by glaciers that plowed through the Wisconsin heartland, but the course was deconstructed Saturday by a kinetic wunderkind yielding space-age technology. Justin Thomas, all 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds of him, didn’t even need the longest club in his bag to bludgeon the closing holes of this 7,818-yard course. His 9-under 63, which set the record for lowest score in relation to par at a U.S. Open, will be remembered for three 3-wood shots he hit on the back nine Saturday. He drove the 288-yard, par-4 15th with that fairway wood (but missed the 6-foot eagle putt), then hit that same club twice to carry his ball onto the green of the 667-yard, par-5 18th. He stood in the final fairway, 310 yards from the hole, and debated between hooking a 2-iron into the green or hitting a high, cut 3-wood. The fans cheered when he cast aside the iron in favor of the longer club. He His ball carried more than 290 yards in the air before landing softly on the putting surface and rolling 8 feet past the hole. He made the putt to cap his record round. “I was hitting a 3-wood to lay-up, and he wasn’t that far ahead of me,” said his playing partner, Jonathan Randolph. “I knew he could get it there. I didn’t know he could hit it that high and that soft.” It was the fifth 63 in U.S. Open history, and the first fired in a third round. It also was the first on a par-72 course. Thomas made nine birdies, an eagle and two bogeys Saturday, and finished the round with four consecutive 3s. A par at No. 16 and 26-foot birdie putt on the 17th were sandwiched between his impressive showings on 15 and 18. He hit 14 greens, and missed just three fairways while averaging 322.7 yards. “I was in a great zone out there,” Thomas said. “I was hitting it well, I was putting it well, I had some great up-and-downs. Everything has been flowing.” Several scoring records already have been broken at a soft Erin Hills, but Thomas’ brought the most excitement to a tournament that was still struggling to find its identity. His frenetic finishing kick allowed him to break free from a crowded leaderboard that had been difficult for fans to keep up with. Seven players were tied for the lead at one point Saturday, with several more just a stroke behind. Thomas held a two-stroke lead when he walked off the golf course and ended the day one back of leader Brian Harman. “The finish was awesome,” Thomas said. “I’d love to have another one of those.” If he does, he could walk away with his first major title. There will be lighter traffic on the leaderboard Sunday, as only six players are within three strokes of Harman. Erin Hills, with wide fairways that are unprecedented for a U.S. Open, has allowed players to mash drivers like Mike Trout. It’s a perfect fit for Thomas, one of the most violent swingers on the PGA TOUR. His ability to generate so much distance from his small frame has been the topic of several magazine instructional articles, as if an average player could hope to make solid contact by replicating an impact position that sends Thomas onto his tippy-toes. He’d only managed to shoot 2 under par in the first two rounds at Erin Hills, though. His first-round 73 included a triple-bogey on the par-4 eighth hole and left him on the cut line. He shot 69 in the second round, but still started Saturday six shots off the lead. Saturday’s round was the second time this season that he’s eagled the final hole to set a record. His 59 at the Sony Open in Hawaii was the lowest first-round score in PGA TOUR history. He went on to set or tie the TOUR’s 36-hole and 54-hole scoring records that week, before setting the TOUR’s 72-hole standard and winning his second of three titles this season. He ranks second in the FedExCup. The U.S. Open would be the 24-year-old’s biggest win, of course, and not only because of the significance that accompanies one of golf’s Grand Slam events. The final round of the U.S. Open traditionally falls on Father’s Day, and Thomas’ dad, Mike, has been an integral part of his son’s golf career. He’s the head pro at Harmony Landing in Goshen, Kentucky, and Justin’s longtime instructor. Mike’s dedication to his vocation meant that his Father’s Days were spent working, not watching his national championship from the couch. He was at Erin Hills to witness Justin’s record round, though. “My Father’s Day tradition was working 10-12 hours at the club, for our big Parent-Child tournament,” Mike said. “This one was going to be good as soon as he made the cut. I get to spend the day with my son. That’s good enough for me.” The Thomases are a family with a long golf lineage. Justin’s grandfather, Paul, also was a club professional. He competed in one of the most memorable U.S. Opens in history, the 1962 affair at Oakmont. Paul missed the cut, bowing out before young Jack Nicklaus defeated Arnold Palmer in a playoff. Now Paul’s grandson has cemented his name in the championship’s record book. The golf ball from Saturday’s round will need to find a home alongside the other memorabilia in Harmony Landing’s pro shop that commemorates Justin’s success The front counter’s display case holds flags, gloves and other memorabilia that highlight the many accomplishments of Thomas’ decorated career. There also are more than 10 dozen golf balls, one from each of Thomas’ victories dating to his earliest days. A major trophy would undoubtedly make a nice addition.
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