Masters rookie Justin Thomas feeling good about bentgrass greens
Most Masters Tournament rookies are worried about how they will fare on the slick bentgrass greens at Augusta National Golf Club. Justin Thomas is not one of them.
First, Thomas likes putting on fast greens, according to his caddie Jimmy Johnson.
And second, he’s received a tutorial on the greens from a player who is considered one of the best on them – Augusta National member Jeff Knox.
Knox, who holds the course record from the member tees at Augusta National with 11-under-par 61, serves as the club’s noncompeting marker when there is an odd number of players in the field after the 36-hole cut. Because of his prowess on the greens, Knox has beaten some of the pros he’s played with, including Rory McIlroy.
Knox’s son, Lee, played college golf with Thomas at Alabama.
On a pre-Masters visit in February, Thomas played two rounds with the elder Knox, who is an Augusta businessman.
“It helped a lot,” Thomas said. “He knows so much about that course. Any questions or any concerns I can ask. He’s always good. I don’t think anybody has the knowledge he has on those greens. Hopefully it will help me a lot. I’ve still got to execute. I’ve tried to get as much as I possibly can (from Knox) before the event starts.”
Augusta National won’t reveal how fast its greens are running these days. Two-time Masters champion Tom Watson estimates they are between 11 and 13 on the stimpmeter, which is very fast.
“He likes greens fast so we’ll see if he likes them that fast,” said Johnson of Thomas. “He loves them. That’s what he says and I believe him.”
Johnson said Thomas reminds him of his old boss, Steve Stricker, one of the top putters in the game.
“When Justin starts making them, he makes them all like Stricker does,” he said.
Johnson said Augusta National should be right up Thomas’ alley.
“It sets up good for him because he hits the ball high – and far,” Johnson said. “Or he can keep it low into the wind, which is pretty versatile, which is awesome.”
Thomas is considered one of the top young players on the tour. He and defending Masters champion Jordan Spieth are both 22 years old and are such good friends they often play practice rounds together at tour events.
“Justin’s right up there with all of them,” Johnson said of the young players. “He’s played with Jordan his whole junior and college career. Jordan just busted onto the scene. Not everybody does that. We’re just on the path to do good things.”
Thomas has already won on the PGA Tour – in November in Malaysia, where he held off Adam Scott to win by a shot.
“It was really important,” Thomas said of his first win. “It gave me a lot of confidence. When I get in that situation I’ll know I have done it.”
The victory came in the third event of the tour’s 2015-2016 wraparound season. It was the 39th start of Thomas’ career, which was a little late by his way of thinking.
“I definitely planned on winning before (that),” Thomas said. “I always had high expectations for myself, and I definitely played well enough last year in some events to win. I understand that winning is difficult, and it doesn’t happen that often.
“But I feel like with my game and if I put the preparation in and I’m doing the right things with my body and get my rest, then I really feel like I can get myself there pretty good amount of times. It’s just a matter of if I capitalize or not.”
Johnson said Thomas has more patience on the golf course now and that has helpd his game.
“I think that’s why he’s playing better,” Johnson said. “It’s just a learning curve. Jordan shortened the learning curve. The faster you make that curve, the quicker you get there. There’s no rush. Obviously, you want to do it tomorrow. But if you keep doing what you’re doing you’ll get there.”