Martin: Tide's Thomas driven to succeed
More than 10 dozen golf balls are on display in Harmony Landing Country Club's pro shop in Goshen, Ky. They’re not for sale, though. They’re mementos from a career that continues to grow in promise and extend a family’s legacy.
Each ball is marked with a score, date and tournament name, signifying a victory by the son of the club’s head pro. The two latest additions to that shrine have made Mike Thomas’ son, Justin, a contender to win college golf’s player-of-the-year awards in his freshman season.
Alabama's Justin Thomas arrives at the NCAA Championship after consecutive victories at the SEC Championship and NCAA Southeast Regional. Those wins added the 122nd and 123rd balls to the display at his home club. He's won four times this season, which is why he’s No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. He trails only his fellow freshman, Texas’ Jordan Spieth.
Spieth and Thomas will go mano-a-mano at the NCAA Championship, which begins Tuesday at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. They're paired together as the leaders of the nation's top two teams. Texas is No. 1, while the second-ranked Crimson Tide, like its star freshman, come in with a hot hand. Alabama also won the SEC Championship, then posted a 25-shot victory at the NCAA Southeast Regional.
Thomas was one of several freshmen expected to have a big impact this college season, but he was overshadowed by two classmates – Spieth and Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers – who qualified for last year's Walker Cup team. Thomas, who made a PGA Tour cut at 16 years old and was runner-up at the 2010 U.S. Junior, couldn't keep up the pace. Putting problems and self-imposed pressure led to summer struggles.
“I putted miserably. You can’t contend when you do that,” he said. “I was too hard on myself. It wasn’t helping anything getting mad. You just have to let it go.”
That mindset helped this year. He’s been the nation’s most successful amateur in 2012. He won the Jones Cup, one of the nation’s top amateur events, in February and added the Puerto Rico Classic later that month. Then came the conference and regional titles. Thomas’ other college victory came in his debut, at the Carpet Capital Collegiate.
Thomas grew up around the game. His father, Mike, has been the head pro at Harmony Landing for more than 20 years. He’s a PGA Master Professional and served on the PGA of America’s board of directors from 2008-10, a position that allowed him to be a starter at the PGA Championship and observer at the Ryder Cup.
Those 10 dozen golf balls aren't the only family memorabilia at Harmony Landing. There's also U.S. Golf Association medals from three generations of success. Justin's grandfather, Paul, has one for being medalist at qualifying for the 1961 U.S. Open and 1983 U.S. Senior Open. Paul Thomas was a longtime pro at Zanesville (Ohio) Country Club.
Mike Thomas, an all-conference golfer at Morehead State, was medalist at sectional qualifying for the 1976 U.S. Junior. Justin Thomas repeated that feat for the 2010 U.S. Junior and 2011 U.S. Amateur. He earned a silver medal for his runner-up finish at the Junior, as well.
The Thomas house is little more than a mile from Harmony Landing. Justin took full advantage of his proximity to the club. Even his "off" days wouldn't last long.
“I’d tell him to go goof off for the day, and that would only last until 10 or 11 (in the morning),” Mike Thomas said. “I’d be out there teaching, I’d look over and he’d be hitting balls. He’d return from a two- or three-week stretch of playing every day on the road and I’d get a phone call at 5:30 (p.m.) saying, ‘We just got in. Can you play nine?’ I’d think, ‘You’re at the airport after playing 21 days in a row and your first thought is about playing nine?’”
The answer is yes. That dedication has paid off this season.