Honolulu — Justin Thomas used to call his father when he arrived at junior tournaments, and the conversation almost always started the same way.
“What’s the number?”
The father wasn’t asking what score it would take to win, the length of the course or even the entry fee. The number in question was how many greens his son would be able to reach in regulation, and not just on the par 4s.
“I was guaranteed to hit driver into at least one par 3,” Thomas said.
Mike Thomas was in the gallery along the ninth fairway at Waialae Country Club when his 23-year-old son nearly left his feet while launching a 358-yard drive, setting up a wedge into the par 5. It was only his seventh-longest drive during his time in paradise.
This Aloha State adventure was the best two weeks of Thomas’ career. He joined Ernie Els as the only players to sweep the Hawaii swing and became the first player since Tiger Woods in 2009 to win by at least three shots in consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour. Thomas rose to No. 8 in the world.
“Unforgettable,” Thomas said of the last two weeks.
That goes for his parents, too, mainly because they had yet to see him win on the PGA Tour. His other two victories were in Malaysia, so Mike and Jani Thomas had to stay up until the early morning hours to watch him beat Adam Scott one year, Hideki Matsuyama the next.
Watching in person with an ocean view is better.
Mike Thomas has been the head pro at Harmony Landing outside Louisville, Kentucky, for the last 28 years, and golf is really all his son has ever known. Justin was not even 2 when his father gave him a cut-down driver with a wooden head to whack golf balls around the house and at Harmony Landing.
But the boy fell in love with golf by himself.
“I made sure there was no formal instruction until he asked for it,” Mike Thomas said. “There were a lot more little lessons than big lessons.”
Part of the reason is he had a golf shop to run, members to serve and lessons to give. A larger part was Mike Thomas had seen too many kids pushed too hard and he didn’t want to be that parent.
“I decided that I wanted to be his best friend more than his father,” he said. “There were times I had to get on him as a parent. But mostly we had just had a lot of fun.”
Golf has been in the family for three generations. Paul Thomas was the longtime club pro at Zanesville Country Club in Ohio who qualified for the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont. Mike Thomas played at Morehead State and competed in college against Kenny Perry. He spent one year on the mini-tours before working fulltime as a PGA professional.
Justin was in elementary school, still swinging away, when his father began a tradition of keeping golf balls from every tournament he won.
There were 128 balls at Harmony Landing when they left for Hawaii.
The father headed home with five more golf balls — and he wanted six.
Two were from the victories at the SBS Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open, bringing the victory count to 130. A special display will hold the golf ball that Thomas rolled in from 15 feet for eagle on the final hole of his opening round for a 59. Another ball is from the 36-hole scoring record (123) he set on Friday, and the fifth is from the 72-hole record (253) Thomas set Sunday.
“I wanted the one after Saturday for the 54-hole record,” Mike Thomas said with a laugh. “But Justin said that wasn’t a record, it was only a tie.”