Not even a beard can make a man of Justin Thomas. Not in appearance, anyway. If he is going out in Carnoustie for a few jars tonight on the eve of the Open Championship he would be advised to carry ID despite his 25 years.
Should he win on Sunday, he can do what he likes, of course, sup straight from the Claret Jug if the fancy takes, reprising the stunt of two years ago when he shared a house with winner Zak Johnson and convention dictated a literal interpretation of the trophy’s use. As well as youthful looks, Thomas brings a schoolboy’s enthusiasm to the task this week borne of a deep appreciation of the history and tradition associated with golf’s oldest major.
The son of a teaching pro, Thomas is schooled in the conventions as well as the fundamentals of the game. He recalls an early photo opportunity afforded by his father, when, as a nine-year-old boy, he was introduced to PGA champion David Toms, who allowed him a pic holding the Wanamaker Trophy. As the present owner of that very silverware, Thomas, pictured, is persuaded that to touch is not to jinx a pot yet to win. That PGA Championship victory was the fourth of five wins last season. His win at the Honda Classic in February followed a week later by a play-off defeat to Phil Mickelson at the WGC-Mexico Championship fed into a rankings matrix that would ultimately carry him all the way to world No1 in May, a station he held for four weeks and one he would reclaim with victory here.
The American attachment to all things ancient and British is often a suffocating, needy reflex to compensate for the very lack of inveterate custom at home. With Thomas you sense the reverence is authentic, his feeling for this event genuine and the idea of winning it coveted since he was in short pants. “It would mean a lot,” he said. “I can’t necessarily put it into words because I think it’s just one of those things you can’t describe unless it happens. It would be extremely, extremely special. Just the amount of history that goes into this tournament. I’ve always felt this would be one of my more favourite wins that I could have because it just takes such a wide variety of golf shots and such a complete game, if you will, to win here as opposed to a lot of courses in the States. You just hit it high and far in America, you try to stop it close to the hole, and you make the putts, whereas here you really have to use all assets of your game.”
The portents are not good. Neither, frankly, are they instructive. This is only this third visit. At the first at Troon two years ago the draw put him on the wrong end of the tempest. At Birkdale he missed the cut, not as a consequence of sustained struggle but as a result of two bad holes.
“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens,” he said. “Two years ago I was on the bad side of the draw, and it was very difficult to make up ground that way, but then last year I really just had two terrible holes that caused me to miss the cut. But I love links golf. I feel like I am a good links player although I don’t really have the results to show.”
Maybe the whiskers are a first line of defence against the elements, or a hairy imprint from the Dustin Johnson stylebook projecting virility and defiance. Or perhaps he is just a generational pack leader fluent in accidental cool. Let’s go with that “I had two weeks off, and I was lazy and didn’t feel like shaving. I got a couple compliments on it, and I thought, all right, maybe I’ll just go with it. I would love for it to be a good luck charm, but as of now, it’s no charm.”
Self deprecating, too. Another winning club in the JT bag.