Justin Thomas, caddie Jimmy Johnson form strong bond through shared success
One of the top players in the world has a veteran rock on his bag
I suppose the first and most obvious difference about Justin Thomas, and his caddie, Jimmy Johnson (not the NASCAR driver), is their age. Thomas, currently the No. 2 player in the world, is 25 but could pass for 22 if he needed. Johnson, who has been a caddie on the PGA Tour for more than two decades, is in his 60s.
And yet, despite this nearly four-decade difference (can you imagine being almost 40 when your boss was born?), or maybe because of it, there's a lightness to their relationship. It's certainly all business most of the time, but they don't talk as if this is the case.
Johnson said it was something he thought about a lot at the beginning of their partnership, but it's worked out in a way they've both been excited about. Par is just a number in golf, and so too is age.
"It's energizing, to be honest," Johnson said of caddying for someone who could feasibly be his grandson and easily be his son. "It shows me a world I'm not accustomed to, which is cool. I thought about it long and hard when we first started. With the age difference being so large, I didn't want to become that father figure. I wanted to be more like a big brother. Just have more of a brother relationship than a know-it-all."
Thomas confirmed that the two are close, even though they don't spend every waking moment together. Johnson stays at Thomas' house annually during the Honda Classic (which Thomas won in 2018), and they both recount overseas trips together as some of their favorite memories.
"I think we could easily have dinner every night and hang out every night if we wanted, but we're just doing our own thing," Thomas told CBS Sports."
Johnson took Thomas' bag after stints with Charles Howell III, Nick Price and, most recently before Thomas, Steve Stricker. He's seen it all, but until earlier this year, he'd never seen the No. 1 player in the world. Not up close, anyway. Not from the viewpoint of that player's bag.
Thomas became No. 1 after The Players Championship in May, though, and he credited a strong relationship with Johnson on and off the course as one of the several key inputs to his success.
"He's been huge for me in terms of taking the next step," Thomas said. "It's really hard to win, but I trust my abilities. I know if I play well, when I'm around the leader in the final group, I have a good chance to win. In the course of that Sunday, those 18 holes, there's a good chance at some point something bad is going to happen or you're going to get a bad break.
"Jimmy does really of keeping me here [he runs his hand in an even, straight line]. If something happens, just focusing on 'hey, that's over with, let's just keep hitting our shots and we'e going to be fine' He always says 'something good is going to happen at some point.'"
A lot of good has happened since Johnson took Thomas' bag. Thomas won a PGA Tour-leading five times during the 2016-17 season, won the PGA Tour Player of the Year award, his first major and took home the FedEx Cup and a boatload of money in the process. He hasn't slowed down in 2018. Thomas' encore has included three more wins this season, and again he's leading the PGA Tour money list. He's already qualified for his first-ever Ryder Cup this fall.
There is a joy in getting to experience all of these things for the first time for both player and caddie. Thomas' PGA Championship last August at Quail Hollow was the first major for both men, and it was clearly a special week neither will soon forget. Thomas leans on Johnson, and the relationship works because of a mutual trust that only comes after having been in the trenches together. After having won (lots of) events together.
"We're comfortable enough with each other that we can probably say things to each other that we we weren't as comfortable saying at the beginning of working together," said Thomas. "We both want the same end result. I want the best out of Jimmy. Jimmy wants the best out of me. Jimmy knows I'm very honest and straight up with him. I've told him some stuff that I feel like I need to get better, maybe he needs to get better. Same with everybody on my team. We all need to hold each other accountable."
This is the essence of Thomas. Open with his emotions on the course. Open with his team off of it. It's a galvanizing attribute that befits his big personality. Johnson has been folded into the fabric of Team Thomas seemingly seamlessly, and both are better off both from a materialistic and a life experience standpoint than they probably ever thought possible.
"We spend a lot of time together," Thomas added. "Over the course of an entire year there's probably not anybody I spend more time with than Jimmy. We've had some great times, and obviously we hope that the best is yet to come. It's a cool journey. It really is. The different things we get to do, the different people we get to meet. The different experiences we have on and off the golf course.
"People who don't know golf very well look at the player-caddie relationship as just an on-the-course thing, but you need to get along. It's a serious decision, and it's very important in terms of playing your best golf. The times that Jimmy and I hang out off the golf course, it's very fun."
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