How Justin Thomas Became One of Golf's Rising Stars

Justin Thomas plays his shot from the 16th tee during round one of The Northern Trust tournament in 2017
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

At a slight 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, Justin Thomas is one of the biggest hitters in golf — maybe the game's biggest pound-for-pound hitter. And in 2017, with a breakout year that included five wins and his first major championship trophy, Thomas' public profile went from being Jordan Spieth's only slightly less talented buddy to, just like Spieth, one of the game's brightest young stars.

Thomas' Tour Wins

  • PGA Tour: 8 (wins are listed below)
  • Major Championships: 1

Awards and Honors for Justin Thomas

  • PGA Tour Player of the Year, 2017
  • PGA Tour money leader, 2017
  • Member, Team USA, 2017 Presidents Cup
  • Member, Team USA, 2013 Walker Cup

Born Into a Golf Family

Justin Thomas was born on April 29, 1993, in Louisville, Kentucky. Was he destined to be a golfer? The fact that Thomas' father and grandfather were both PGA Professionals certainly increased the odds that Justin would himself take up the game.

Thomas' grandfather, Paul Thomas, played in some PGA Tour events in the late 1950s and qualified for three major championships in the early 1960s. He later became a club professional and instructor, teaching, among other, LPGA Tour winners Michele Redman and Tammie Green.

Thomas' parents are Mike and Jani Thomas; Mike is a club pro at Harmony Landing in Louisville, where Justin grew up playing.

While it was always likely, given that family background, that Thomas would become a golfer, he said his parents didn't push him:

"I was so lucky to have very supportive parents that didn't push me; that didn't ... kind of force me to play golf. Obviously I'd say it was set up for golf to kind of be in my bones and to grow up to play that. But they treated me the same, whether I shot 66 or 76."

Justin Thomas' Junior and Amateur Golf

Thomas quickly rose to prominence in junior golf, including, at age 14, winning the 2007 Evian Junior Masters tournament in France.

In high school, Thomas was Kentucky's Player of the Year in 2008 and 2010, his sophomore and senior seasons, respectively. His team, Saint Xavier, won the state championship in 2008 and 2009.

Thomas won three tournaments on the American Junior Golf Association circuit (and, after reaching the PGA Tour, began hosting his own AJGA event in Kentucky). He was a two-time Junior All-America selection.

In 2012, Thomas began playing college golf at the University of Alabama. He won the Phil Mickelson Award as freshman of the year, and the Haskins and Nicklaus awards, both for Player of the Year. Thomas also played for a victorious Team USA in the 2012 World Amateur Team Championship and 2013 Walker Cup.

Thomas decided to leave college and turn pro after his sophomore season at Alabama. In two years, he won six individual NCAA titles.

Thomas and Spieth: Friends and Rivals

Justin Thomas became friends with the golfer he has usually, over the early part of his career, been linked with at age 14, at that 2007 tournament at Evian. Thomas and Jordan Spieth have been friends ever since.

But, although they are the same age, Spieth always seemed a little bit ahead of Thomas in his career development. For example, as a 16-year-old amateur, Thomas played in his first PGA Tour event, the 2009 Wyndham Championship, and became one of the youngest-ever to make a PGA Tour cut.

But Spieth had already done the same thing a couple months earlier at the Byron Nelson Championship. Spieth turned pro earlier than Thomas, won on the PGA Tour earlier, won a major championship earlier.

Combined with the fact that Thomas is physically smaller than Spieth, these things contributed to a kind of "Jordan's little buddy" attitude about Thomas early on.

Did that ever frustrate Thomas? Was he ever jealous of Jordan's faster career path?

"Frustration probably isn't the right word," Thomas said. "Jealousy definitely is. I mean, there's no reason to hide it. ... I wanted to be doing that, and I wasn't."

Thomas wasn't, until his breakout 2017 PGA Tour season.

Thomas Goes Pro, Wins His First Major

Thomas turned professional following the 2013 Walker Cup. His first tournament playing as a pro was the PGA Tour Open, in October 2013, where he earned his first career paycheck ($9,600).

He won once on the Tour in 2014 and finished fifth on that tour's money list. That was good enough to earn Thomas his PGA Tour card for the 2015 season. And in that rookie year, Thomas recorded seven Top 10 finishes and placed 32nd on the FedEx Cup points list.

His first PGA Tour victory followed in 2016, at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. And Thomas improved to 12th in the FedEx Cup standings.

That upward trajectory exploded into full-on stardom in the 2016-17 PGA Tour season, in which Thomas posted five victories. Among them was his first major championship win at the 2017 PGA Championship. And Thomas even outdueled his friend and rival Spieth to win the Dell Technologies Championship, part of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Early in 2017, months before his major win, Thomas announced the big year to come by shooting 59 in the Sony Open and winning that tournament with a total score of 253 — the lowest score in PGA Tour history.

It was in 2017 that Thomas began living out what he'd previously cited as his motto: "No excuses — play like a champion."

He ended the season with a runner-up finish in the Tour Championship that earned Thomas the FedEx Cup Trophy.

Justin Thomas Trivia

    List of Justin Thomas' PGA Tour Wins

    Here are the PGA Tour tournaments won by Thomas so far in his career.

    • 2016 CIMB Classic
    • 2017 CIMB Classic
    • 2017 SBS Tournament of Champions
    • 2017 Sony Open in Hawaii
    • 2017 PGA Championship
    • 2017 Dell Technologies Championship
    • 2017 JC Cup
    • 2018 Honda Classic

    Before joining the PGA Tour, Thomas won on the Tour in 2014 at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship.