Justin Thomas is a few more major championships away from an all-time great career
Thomas' career trajectory is as good as there is on any pro tour in the world
Justin Thomas has more PGA Tour wins than Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Payne Stewart, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros. He has the same number as Justin Leonard, Calvin Peete, Steve Stricker and Bubba Watson. He trails David Duval by one, Adam Scott by two and Fred Couples by three. He's 25th on the all-time money list. He's 26 years old.
Thomas' trajectory is one of my favorite to discuss because I think we're still underrating it. He ran down Jordan Spieth in the wins category in just a few seasons -- although he has some work to do at the majors -- and it doesn't appear as if he'll ever trail him again.
Player: Justin Thomas
PGA Tour events: 145
Wins: 12 (8.3%)
Best win: PGA Championship (2017)
Top 10s: 49 (34%)
Top 25s: 80 (55%)
These numbers are an absolute joke. To put into perspective what 12 wins in 145 events means, consider Phil Mickelson's career. Most everyone thinks of Lefty as one of the 20 best golfers of all time (I have him flirting with my top 10), and he won 11 of his first 145 events. So did Spieth. Dustin Johnson won eight. Thomas has 12.
There's a legitimate case to be made that Thomas' trajectory as of April 2020 is as one of the 25 greatest players of all time. Will that pan out? Who knows, but I know that's where the arrow is pointing (again, depending on how deep into the majors Thomas gets) and I know that Thomas wants that.
Let's go to two quotes from Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world, winner of 14 of his first 145 events and a J.T. advocate.
"I live in Jupiter at The Bear's Club with a lot of other PGA Tour players," McIlroy recently told the Irish Independent. "And there's two people in that area that practice more than anyone else -- Justin Thomas and me."
I've thought about that quote a lot. Why Rory said it and what it means. How it affects the present and the future. Life so often gets in the way of career trajectories (understandably so), but when it comes to guys like Thomas, the focus seems to be more singular than most.
The other quote from McIlroy came in this recent ESPN piece on Thomas and what he wants his career to be about.
"Listen, he's a hell of a player, and he's going to be a hell of a player for the next 20 years," McIlroy told ESPN. "I think everyone out here knows that."
It's true that Thomas has no holes. His game is as level as anybody at the top of this sport. Consider his strokes gained rankings over the last few years on the PGA Tour.
Off the tee
Approach the green
Around the green
Tee to green
If you want to argue that putting is a weakness, fine, but it's the category I'm least concerned about. It has the least effect on how many wins you post. Everything else is airtight. This chart should be incredibly disconcerting to everyone who's ranked outside the top 10 in the world. The holes just aren't there.
The quibbling here starts and ends at the major championships. Thomas currently has one -- the 2017 PGA at Quail Hollow -- but he only has two other top 10s. He did have that historic 63 at Erin Hills at the 2017 U.S. Open, but to be considered one of the 25 best players of all time, he has to start racking up the big ones.
It's not as if he doesn't know this. And this is what separates J.T. from so many others. Not only is his work ethic off the charts, but he also wants the rock with the clock winding down. He wants to ride in front of the Peloton. You would think that's a commonality among all athletes. It's not.
Thomas both craves greatness and believe that he's great. You can have a good career with one of those, but you have to have both if you want to be an all-timer.
Only time will tell if he ends up there. Things happen. Injuries stack up. Breaks go the other way. Your mind develops scar tissue. But if I'm betting on careers over the next 10 or 15 years, I don't know that I'm looking anywhere else but right here. Plenty of guys have great trajectories, few like Thomas have both the desire and ability to keep them chugging along at the very highest level.
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