Does Justin Thomas get the respect he deserves?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Justin Thomas won for the second time this season and 7th time in his last 31 starts. Those numbers are close to Tiger Woods’ best stretches yet Thomas never seems to be considered part of the most elite group of big name players such as Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. Even Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm get more respect than Thomas and neither has a comparable record. Is Thomas under-appreciated?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I think that’s a very valid comment and question. Thomas just doesn’t seem to have the swagger and electricity in his game that the six other names you mention do.  But you have to give him credit for his accomplishments.  Add another major to his record and then for sure he’ll be part of the Big Boy conversation.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): In the terms of world class recognition, Thomas is under-appreciated. I’d expect that will change if he can sustain this for another six months. He’s the new “kid” on the block, he has to earn it, if he can stay healthy, and he could be a force to reckon with. Although, being small-ish in comparison to some of the other top 10 players who violently strike the ball, I suspect his body will give at some point.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: Justin is winning at about a 20% rate. In his most prolific times, Tiger won at 50%. JT has a way to go to be ‘Tigeresque’! I’ve always thought Ricky has under-performed. Dustin, Jordan and Rory are today’s big stars. Jason is a mystery that can only be explained by a series of medical issues. I think people feel Justin is still a bit of a newcomer. Don’t worry it won’t be long until it’s a Rahm vs Thomas show every week and the others will take supporting roles.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): JT is not under-appreciated. He’s only 24, he’s ranked third in the world, and he’s already one of golf’s biggest superstars. And I don’t think I need to state just how much of a wrecking ball the kid has been over the last 14 months. Anyone who has been watching knows that to be the case. He may not yet have the legendary status that McIlroy, Spieth, or DJ have, but he will soon! Remember, he’s really only come onto the scene in a big way over the last year. If he has another big season — and all signs are pointing to him doing just that — he will ascend to that same legendary status in a hurry.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Well, in the golf pool that I’m in with 1,449 close friends, I took Thomas as my first pick. So, he ain’t under-appreciated around here. Given that he has 6 other top 10s to go with all those wins, Thomas is doing a heck of an impression of the best guy out there. He’s not flashy enough for the howling yahoos and the mouth breathers, but that’s just fine with a lot of us.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Reputations are forged in majors and epic heavyweight battles. JT’s win at the Honda was only his third on the US mainland, the others coming in Hawaii (2) and Asia (3). Like it or not, those off-shore events just don’t get the same attention or kudos. The kid looks like he can contend against anybody but it may take a few more battles before he gets lumped in with golf’s elite, all of whom have a few more years in the trenches than JT.

Jack Nicklaus has been making lots of noise of late, suggesting the golf ball needs to be rolled back 20 % and that the USGA and R&A may be close to doing something about the distance issue. For 99.9% of the world’s golfers, the ball doesn’t go far enough so a roll back would be counter-productive. Do you think the rules making associations would actually consider this and what consequences do you foresee if they did?

Deeks: I think amateurs would have a very hard time having their, um, balls dialed back, but I don’t think they’d be totally unsupportive of a dial-back in professional men’s tournaments.  I think professional men would be 99.9% against a dial-back, but aren’t saying so publicly for fear of speaking too soon.  And I can’t really see the ball manufacturers being supportive, even though it probably wouldn’t hurt their businesses; promoting the “new” Pro V-3 on the basis of “it doesn’t really go very far at all” is probably not their idea of marketing chutzpah.  So, Jack’s good thoughts and reputation notwithstanding, I just don’t see it happening anytime soon. Maybe they should just eliminate fairways.  (The turf, I mean… not the magazine.)

Loughry: It’s not just the ball; there are many other factors in the distance debate. What clearly is the right direction/answer for golf, I’m not exactly sure; I just know it’s not a simple problem and I’d never want to see the essence of the game change.

Schurman: The issue of a ‘roll back’ has missed the ‘best before date’ by about 40 years. Sure the ball goes farther and straighter but it isn’t 100% because of the changes to the ball. The lightness of graphite shafts allowed for larger, metal heads. Metal heads lead to increased COR (trampoline effect). Trackman is providing specific information to increase distances and physical fitness is the catalyst. Bobby Jones hit drives 300 yards with wooden shafts and Dustin Johnson hits them 350 – that’s an average increase of .5 yards per year. I don’t recall reading about courses becoming obsolete when the Haskell ball was introduced.

Kaplan: I think they’ll probably end up instituting it, and it’s not going to make any type of difference other than that more players will complain. The rolled-back ball is not going to catch on. No amateur players are going to want to play with a ball that gives them 85% of their normal distance. And for that reason, no manufacturers are going to want to produce it. It will just be a silly thing that we’ll see at the US Open and the Open for a few years. And then everyone will agree that it is bad, and it will be phased out of the game once and for all.

Quinn: The issue is that the majority of touring pros can hit the ball too far and the vast majority of amateurs can’t hit it far enough. No associations, let alone ball makers, are going to go along with Jack’s quixotic idea of ramping back balls depending on the course being played. Forget it. If they narrow the fairways and grow the rough for the pros, and do the opposite for the rest of us, the ball would no longer be an issue.

Mumford: I think Jack is way off base on this one. Twenty years ago was the time to do something but now nobody wants to dial back distance. And for what? So a few classic courses are more challenging for today’s touring professionals who represent less than 1% of players worldwide? The other 99% still don’t hit the ball as far as they’d like. In the end this will be decided by the PGA Tours and the ball manufacturers. Neither group will stand for anything that hurts their revenue models, all of which support charitable donations, player endorsements and a lot of money poured into the game. Nobody wants to turn off that tap.

Tiger Woods displayed a much different game at The Honda Classic finishing T12 than he did at Riviera the week before when he missed the cut. With Tiger almost in contention on Sunday, do you have a different belief about his chances to win again and maybe even win majors?

Deeks: Sigh… no, I have no beliefs about Tiger.  Jolly good luck, old boy, is what I say.  And Doris Day says, “Que sera, sera.”

Loughry: My belief remains the same; I think he’ll win again; he’s still working some rust off. I think I read a stat that said he was #1 in proximity to the hole last week (or 2nd). That sure tells me something. He’s on the right track, Bay Hill is in a few weeks. Look out!

Schurman: Tiger’s approach to his situation seems entirely different than before. Previously (around 2000) he seemed to carry an attitude of being indestructible. Now he seems to be taking each of the necessary steps to build himself and his game into a resilient force one piece at a time. I don’t think he will be the ‘Tiger of old’ but I wouldn’t bet against him either.

Kaplan: After three tournaments, Tiger Woods is ranked 16th in strokes gained with the putter, 14th in overall putting average, and 2nd in one-putt percentage. His tee game may be trash right now, but he will sort that out. And when he does, the tour had better look out! I would not be surprised if Tiger were to win out there soon and it would also not surprise me the least if that win were to come at Augusta National.

Quinn: I just wish that CBS and the Golf Channel were a little more aware that Eldrick was in the tourney. There was a couple of times on the weekend when we didn’t get to see him walking green to tee, and they completely missed a number of long stares before club selections. Anyway, he was 3rd in driving distance, led in ‘shot proximity,’ and finished ahead of a lot of ‘name’ players. But he still got dusted by the young’uns and his 21-year-old playing partner in his first Tour event beat him by two strokes on Sunday. Can’t see him out-running the kids over any four-day stretch.

Mumford: For once I was OK with all the attention paid to Tiger in a tournament. At least he was on the leaderboard. I’ve been saying since he started this latest comeback that if he’s healthy, he can win. And if he can win regular events, then he can probably win majors too. The surprising thing is how healthy he seems to be. He’s right up there with the best in driving distance and it looks like all of his other clubs are dialled in too. Maybe all he needs is a course he’s really comfortable on. Two of his upcoming starts are at Bay Hill and Augusta where he’s won 12 times in total. Another victory at either wouldn’t be a shocker.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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