When Justin Thomas’ father walked into the Blackstone Grille restaurant in Prospect, Kentucky, for the first time since the golfer’s major championship victory, he was greeted with applause.
That community had been waiting for that moment, and the buzz has hardly quieted since. The same could be said for Tuscaloosa.
Thomas won the the PGA Championship on August 13 at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C.
“We always knew that it was going to happen,” Thomas’ former high school teammate, Jack Clare, said to their coach, Dan Utley, after the victory. “It was only a matter of time.”
Clare took the words right out of Utley’s mouth.
Thomas played at St. Xavier High School in Louisville, of which Prospect is a suburb, before playing collegiately at the University of Alabama. The St. Xavier coach had never seen such a young player dream any bigger. Thomas’ blend of focus and humility was everything he could want from a high school golfer.
“He backed his dreams up with hard work,” Utley said. “If there’s such thing as talent in this game, he has always had it. You never take anything for granted in this game, but Justin’s game was built to win major championships.”
In his high school years, Thomas would fly across the country to play in national tournaments and return to play for St. Xavier the next day. He never lost sight of the importance of being a good teammate, and that didn’t go unappreciated by his peers.
“We still joke and say that the game owes him success,” said Brendan Doyle, now a senior golfer at Indiana. “He’s such a good guy that it makes it really easy to be happy for him.”
Lucas Jones, another member of the 2011 St. Xavier golf team, used the PGA Championship to reminisce on the time that he asked Thomas to play a round a golf with middle-schooler Patrick McSweeney. Jones had been introduced to McSweeney after he was told he was battling cancer, something he also fought as a child.
“He immediately said, ‘Absolutely, of course,’” said Jones, now a senior golfer at Bellarmine University. “That was when Justin was just beginning to come up at the peak of the college level. He got Patrick’s number and they still text every once in a while.”
McSweeney relapsed right before the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla golf course in Kentucky, and Thomas met Jones once again in a grocery store parking lot so that he could sign a hat and a flag to give to McSweeney in the hospital. The cancer survivor went on to attend St. Xavier, like Thomas.
“He’s always been that way,” said Cooper Musselman, another of Thomas’ high school teammates. “He’s like top 10 in the world right now and still to this day he never hesitates on sending me a text back. He’s a genuinely nice guy that isn’t hard for anyone to get along with.”
So, when Thomas cleaned up with a final-round 68 to take home the Wanamaker Trophy, there was plenty of excitement from his old team, but no shock. Instead, Musselman described it as a feeling of relief. It was something their old teammate had deserved since his early years in golf.
“He always does the little things,” Jones said. “He has never stepped outside of the big picture, and that made the PGA Championship really nice to see.”
Although they weren’t around to celebrate together, Thomas’ old St. Xavier teammates brought back memories of their high school years over the phone.
“There was one shot he hit in a practice round that we still talk about,” Doyle said. “It was like a 320-yard hole, and we all pulled out driver to see if we could reach the green. After nobody did, he pulled out a 3-wood and drove it within 5 feet. The next day he went on to break the course record. That’s when we said, ‘Wow, this guy is going to be special.’ We were right about that.”