Jay Seawell started to realize that his plans for a quiet Monday were going to go out the window as Justin Thomas started the back nine at the PGA Championship on Sunday.
“Believe it or not, I was caddying for one of his (Alabama) teammates,” said Seawell, the University of Alabama golf coach, describing his Sunday as he watched Thomas win his first major championship, and the first by a UA golf alumnus in 41 years. “I was in Springfield, Missouri, caddying for Bobby Wyatt at a Web.com Tour event. So it was fun to share that moment with a former teammate and good friend of Justin’s. And we were acting just like you’d expect, cheering and high-fiving on every shot.”
For most of the golf fans watching, Thomas’ victory at Quail Hollow Golf Club will be defined by a birdie putt at the 10th hole, the ball seeming to defy gravity for several seconds as it sat on the lip of the cup before finally dropping in. Seawell had seen signs of an impending win before that.
“As iconic as I think that putt will be over the years to come, I think he was already in the zone,” Seawell said. “He was playing with confidence. Even his demeanor on that putt was good. When it didn’t go in at first, he wasn’t distraught. There wasn’t a change in his demeanor. Then on his chip shot on the 13th, when he broke the five-way tie, you could tell. Even Bobby saw it. He turned to me and said, ‘Look how calm he is.’ He was playing quickly, but he wasn’t in a hurry. That meant he wasn’t over-thinking things. He was engaged. He had that look that I’ve seen before when he was really playing well.”
Thomas essentially clinched the title on the 17th hole, scoring a birdie on the par-3 to put him two shots clear of the field.
“I don’t think more than 4 or 5 players on tour can hit a 7-iron on that tee shot and get it within 15 feet,” Seawell said. “For most pros, that’s a 5-iron hoping to get safety on the green. Not for Justin. I thought it was the shot of the tournament, maybe the shot of his life. But I’ve seen that shot before.
“It’s amazing how the elite athlete does that under such high pressure,” Seawell said. “A lot of good players melt under it. He didn’t.”
The reaction to Thomas’ win, both in the golf world and in his collegiate home of Tuscaloosa, has been “remarkable,” Seawell said.
“I sort of expected it from the golfers because he is such a popular, likable guy with a great story (both Thomas’ father and grandfather were also golf pros),” Seawell said. “But the reaction I’ve gotten from Alabama people has been amazing. I had more texts on Sunday night than I got when we won the (NCAA golf) national championships. I’ve been talking to the media all day long. That is great for us.”
Seawell said the golf program, which already has Jerry Pate’s U.S. Open championship trophy on display in its clubhouse at Ol’ Colony Golf Complex, has received “so much positive publicity” and plans to use that in recruiting, whether it is bringing Thomas back for a football game appearance (probably for the Alabama-LSU weekend), or simply adding the Wanamaker Trophy, emblematic of the PGA title, to its clubhouse hardware.
“I’ve already been looking at where to put it,” Seawell said, laughing. “We’ll find room for it, and we’ll tell recruits that we are halfway to the Grand Slam and they can be the one to win The Masters or the British Open and get their own wing for their trophy, too.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.