COLUMBUS, Ga. – Justin Thomas picked up a golf club for the first time when he was 18 months old, competed in a tournament when he was 6 years old and played in an event away from home when he was 8. Now, as a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Alabama, he is the winner of the 2012 Haskins Award, an honor reserved for the nation’s top collegiate golfer.
The winner was announced Thursday by the Haskins Commission following a vote of Division I golfers, coaches and golf media. Thomas is the first Crimson Tide golfer to win the award, which a year ago went to UCLA’s Patrick Cantlay.
“We’re certainly excited to add Justin to our list of winners. He’s a great golfer and an impressive young man. His fellow golfers and coaches recognized that as a freshman he finished first in four tournaments and was in the top 10 nine different times,” said J. Madden Hatcher Jr., president of the Haskins Commission.
The Haskins Commission, a 501(c)3 organization based in Columbus, Ga., governs the award. It is sponsored by Stifel Nicolaus, a financial-services company based in St. Louis, by Golfweek magazine and by The Greenbrier Classic.
The award honors the late Fred Haskins, resident pro at the Country Club of Columbus, who shared the values and traditions of amateur golf with generations of young people in Saturday morning clinics that never cost more than a dime.
A member of the Ping All-America team, Thomas was the medalist in both the Southeastern Conference Tournament and the NCAA Athens Regional. He was SEC Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year and helped the Tide finish second in the NCAA Tournament.
“Coming into the year, I felt like I was good enough to compete, but no one expects to win four times as a freshman,” said Thomas, a native of Goshen, Ky., whose father and grandfather are longtime club pros.
Thomas said awards have not been his goal.
“Awards take care of themselves,” he said. “You don’t think about such things when you’re out on the course. When I got the call that I was the winner of the Haskins, I didn’t know what to say.”
Thomas previously won two other national awards, joining a growing list of Crimson Tide athletes and teams that have been honored this year. Four Alabama teams have won national championships: football, women’s golf, women’s gymnastics and women’s softball. Seven athletes have won individual awards.
Thomas also joins an impressive group of Haskins alumni who, collectively, have won 28 majors championships and more than 250 professional tournaments around the world. Ben Crenshaw of Texas and Phil Mickelson of Arizona State are the only three-time winners on a list that includes Tiger Woods of Stanford, Matt Kuchar of Georgia Tech, Luke Donald of Northwestern and Graeme McDowell of Alabama-Birmingham.
For the first time, the Haskins winner will receive an exemption into The Greenbrier Classic, a popular PGA Tour stop that is in its third year and played on TPC Old White, one of the nation’s most storied golf courses. Thomas will receive the award July 2 at a dinner sponsored by Stifel Nicolaus, Golfweek and The Greenbrier Resort.
Former Texas star Justin Leonard, the 1994 winner of the Haskins Award and a 12-time Tour champion, will be the featured speaker at the banquet.