In the past several months, Justin Thomas has done everything in his power to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs. He scheduled activities that he had never participated in before. The putter was changed. He rethought his way of thinking. He spent months deluding himself into believing he was on the verge of not only the Playoffs but also the player he previously was.
On Sunday at the Wyndham Championship, I had a chip for a birdie and was standing just off the 18th green. If he could persuade it to drop, no more wishful thinking would be required. His ball then bounced off the flagpole.
Thomas, who was in the top-70, wasn’t sure what he needed to make on 18 to make the Playoffs, but he knew a birdie would help. It appeared that he had succeeded as the ball rolled towards the hole. It appeared destined to hit the cup and become the memorable shot used countless times to highlight Thomas’ incredible journey to the Playoffs.
Thomas hasn’t had a season like that. Instead, the ball directly struck the flagstick. Thomas was the only item to fall, and he did so in shock as the ball dipped a foot from the hole. He accepted par, finishing in T12 at 11-under, 71st in the FedExCup, and one stroke outside of the Playoffs.
“I know this game doesn’t owe you anything, but I feel like I fought hard enough to deserve it,” said Thomas as he addressed the media following his round. Thomas still had a chance to finish in the top 70.
Later that evening, Lucas Glover won to move up from 112th to 49th, and others around Thomas made enough birdies to deplete his vital FedExCup points. This cemented Thomas’ doom. Ben Gryphon, who was ranked 70th, just missed the Playoffs after missing the cut earlier this week. He finished nine points behind Gryphon.
Thomas had hoped that by this time in the season, the gap would be larger. In an effort to crack the top-70, he added the Wyndham Championship this week, the 3M Open, and the Rocket Mortgage Classic to his schedule. He had two main reasons for playing: first, he had an eight-year streak in which he had never missed the FedExCup Playoffs.
Additionally, he is not among the Americans who automatically qualify for the Ryder Cup team. Thomas believed that the Playoffs would be the ideal opportunity to convince Captain Zach Johnson that his game was taking shape and was deserving of a captain’s pick.
But he didn’t make much progress until this past week at Sedgefield Country Club. After doing next to nothing in the big tournaments, he failed to make the cut in Detroit and Minnesota. His only cut in a major was a T65 at the PGA Championship after rounds of 81 at the U.S. Open and 82 at The Open Championship ended any chance of making the weekend.
That put him in 79th place overall and left him open to several potential setbacks at Wyndham, such as an unforeseen gust of wind, a subpar tee shot, or an odd bounce off the flagstick. All of this occurred on Sunday as Thomas descended the back nine.
Thomas, who had been in a holding pattern for much of the afternoon, jumped to 12 under for the day and 70th place in the projected standings with a crucial eagle on the par-5 15th hole. Thomas hit a long iron to 15 feet and rolled in the putt.
Moments later, Thomas’ par-3 16th tee shot was met by a fierce gust of wind that held his ball in the air and rendered him helpless to do anything but watch as it rolled off the steep front slope of the green. Thomas was unable to get near with his chip shot since the green was slightly elevated and his ball was resting against the grain. He eventually settled for a two-putt bogey to drop to 11 under.
Thomas said, “I got screwed on 16, the wind completely switched.” I struck a 9-iron with 155 yards and it travelled 142 yards. Naturally, I won’t be thinking about that on my third hole on Thursday, but when it happened an hour ago, I was completely consumed by it.
He pulled his tee shot into the rough on the par-3 17th, preventing him from making birdie. On hole 18, he made the same shot off the tee as well, but it landed in the pine straw. This gave him the opportunity to attach the ball with the necessary hook to avoid the hanging tree limbs and get it close to the green.
The chip shot then followed. He chose to use his 60-degree wedge in a “trap draw” with the hopes of carrying a sizable section of the green and getting it to check directly in front of the hole. It was simply moving too quickly.
Thomas stated, “I really wish it had gone in, but obviously it was going past the hole.”
Thomas, who missed his first FedExCup Playoffs since his debut in 2014, has likely had a season full of “what if” shots as a result. Thomas no longer doubts the calibre of his play. He had been saying for the past few weeks that really terrific golf was coming. They arrived in Greensboro.
He said, “I feel like I’m back to me again.” “In my opinion, this is more difficult right now than winning a golf match. In other words, if you come in last at a golf event, you finish there, take what you learned from it, and move on to the following week. If I fail here, however, my season is over. So the last two days were obviously more nerve-wracking than attempting to win prior golf events, but I felt like I handled it really well. When necessary, I made some very excellent shots and chips. On hole 15, I made an incredible putt for an eagle, and on holes 17 and 18, I certainly made the up-and-down strokes. I gave it my best effort.
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