Charlotte, N.C. — The question Justin Thomas faced seven months ago was how to follow a season that featured five PGA Tour victories, his first major championship, the FedEx Cup and all the awards that go along with the best year in golf.
One solution was to avoid comparisons along the way, which was never going to be easy.
Quail Hollow presents one of those challenges.
Thomas played nine holes Tuesday with Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau and Dru Love. It was the first time he set foot on Quail Hollow since the PGA Championship, when he holed a 15-foot putt on the first hole of the final round to escape with bogey, watched a birdie putt hang on the edge of the cup at No. 10 for the longest time before dropping, chipped in for birdie on the 13th hole and hit the best shot of his life — a 7-iron on the par-3 17th — for a birdie that clinched his first major.
These are memories, and how he plays this week at the Wells Fargo Championship has no bearing on what he accomplished last summer.
On the table as he spoke was his phone, the only place he keeps his goals. Thomas doesn’t share them until the season is over, and if they’re anything like a year ago, they can be as specific as being among the top 30 in scrambling and as general as making the Ryder Cup team.
One objective drives him.
“Make my bad golf better,” he said.
The encore to last year cannot be measured because Thomas still has the more important half of the season ahead of him, which includes three majors and the FedEx Cup playoffs. But there already is proof that he is backing it up just fine.
For starters, Thomas is second in the Vardon Trophy to Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 1 player, but maybe not for long. Thomas gets his third chance to move to No. 1 in the world this week, most likely needing around 12th place to overtake Johnson, who is not playing at Quail Hollow.
What gets Thomas even more excited are his finishes — not just the victories at the CJ Cup in South Korea last fall or the playoff he won at the Honda Classic, but the tie for 22nd at Kapalua at the start of the year. It’s his worst finish in his 10 individual events he has played.
The bad golf isn’t bad at all.
“I’m so much more consistent this year, which I really like,” Thomas said. “That’s what I’ve wanted to do this year. Get my bad golf better. No missed cuts. Have a chance to win more tournaments. Living around the top 10 is something Tiger did for a long time. He always had chances to win tournaments, and if he didn’t, he was always around, always on that first page of the leaderboard.”