Justin Thomas wrote down a dozen goals at the start of the season, some higher than others, none about winning PGA Tour player of the year.
He achieved so much that Thomas was the obvious choice.
Thomas, a former Alabama golfer, had a tour-best five victories, won his first major at the PGA Championship, set the tour’s 72-hole scoring record and captured the FedEx Cup. After all that, it was no surprise when the tour said Wednesday that Thomas had been voted the PGA Tour player of the year.
The tour does not disclose vote totals. Thomas was on the ballot with British Open champion Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama. Thomas made the choice easy when he closed with a 66 at East Lake to finish one shot behind in the Tour Championship, which allowed him to win the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus.
And then he headed to Liberty National for his first Presidents Cup, where he went 3-1-1.
“It was weird with Presidents Cup last week. It never really was a thought,” Thomas said. “And then I finally got that call, and it just kind of sunk in. I was with my parents when I got the call, so I was able to kind of share the moment with them a little bit.”
Xander Schauffele, whose two victories this season included the Tour Championship, was voted the rookie of the year. He became the fourth player in the last five years from the high school class of 2011 to win rookie of the year.
Thomas previously won the PGA of America award as player of the year, which is based on points.
He was announced for the PGA Tour award a few days before heading to Malaysia for the CIMB Classic, where it all started. Thomas shot 64 in the final round for a three-shot victory over Matsuyama. He swept the Hawaii swing, with a pronounced victory at the Sony Open. He opened with a 59 and then set the tour’s 36-hole scoring record (123) and the 72-hole record (253) for a seven-shot victory.
He made his mark at the PGA Championship, winning at Quail Hollow for his first major. His fifth victory was at the TPC Boston, where he outlasted Spieth on the back nine for a three-shot victory. Spieth was his main challenger as PGA Tour player of the year.
Thomas writes down his goals, and he keeps them private until the season is over. He revealed them after he had won the FedEx Cup. He nailed just about each one except for finishing in the top 10 at half of his PGA Tour events. He missed that by one.
The next list of goals will be tougher, and it can wait.
Thomas is playing the next two weeks in Asia (CIMB Classic and CJ Cup in South Korea), followed by the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas the week after Thanksgiving. At some point, he said, he will talk to Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and perhaps even Spieth on how to raise the bar.
“Those are the only people I know that have had such success in one season multiple times, and they’ve had to deal with resetting their goals and re-evaluating,” he said.
Thomas said he learned long ago to break up two to four goals into three categories — ones he should be able to achieve, one that are difficult but still reasonable, and a few others that “are somewhat achievable if you have a great year like I did this year.”
Among this goals this year were to make the Tour Championship and Presidents Cup team. He also listed a half-dozen statistical goals involving putting, scrambling, scoring average and his consistency from tee-to-green.
He listed the hard ones this year as winning a major and finishing in the top 10 at half his tournaments.
Such was the year that Thomas had a hard time pinpointing a single shot or moment. For sheer achievement, he says the 7-iron he hit over the water to a front pin on the 71st hole of the PGA Championship. “Probably the best shot I’ve ever hit in my life under those circumstances,” he said.
For scoring, he thought about the 3-wood he hit from 310 yards to the elevated 18th green at Erin Hills to 8 feet for an eagle and a 63. He became only the fourth player to shoot 63 in the U.S. Open, and the first to reach that score on a par 72.
And to think that at this time a year ago, Thomas had only one victory. He was tempted to get impatient with the results, especially with Spieth doing so much so quickly.
“But my dad does a great job of reminding me I’ve done a lot of great things,” Thomas said, “and I will continue to do a lot of great things if I continue to work hard and continue to do the right things.”