For a sport obsessed with its own history, golf can get fixed on the future in a hurry.
No sooner does a player win a major than golf analysts and fans start speculating about their next one. And if that “next one” takes awhile to come – or never comes at all – the whispers turn to murmurs, the murmurs to judgments.
The majors are golf’s unassailable tiers of validation. It does not matter how many weekly tour events Rickie Fowler or Lee Westwood or Colin Montgomerie win; if they do not have majors, they’re not in the game’s inner circle. It’s a bright, shining dividing line.
Climb a level up from there, and you’re in single-major territory. The PGA Championship has a bit of a reputation for producing these one-hit wonders, players who had the tournament of their lives at exactly the right moment. In just the last 15 years, Jason Day, Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker, Keegan Bradley and YE Yang have captured a PGA Championship … and nothing else.
Now off that list: Justin Thomas, who nabbed his second major Sunday night in one of the most remarkable comebacks in golf history. After five long years, after 21 “is this the week?” pre-tournament press conferences, Thomas is a one-major winner no more.
Granted, there’s zero shame in owning a single major victory. Beats the hell out of being a zero-major winner. But when you’re a player of Thomas’ caliber, when you’re consistently winning elsewhere on Tour and dominating Ryder and Presidents Cups, well… more is expected of you.
“It’s a lot harder to get the second than I thought it would be, internally. Not as much pressure externally, ”Thomas conceded before the tournament began. “Obviously when you win one, to get to where you want to go, you have to win the next one, and when you get on a little bit of a drought, it can be frustrating.”
The best major players of this generation bunched their victories. Rory McIlroy won four over the course of three-plus years. Jordan Spieth won three over two-plus years, and Brooks Koepka won four over roughly the same span.
And then of course there’s Thomas’ best pal Tiger Woods, who threw off the scale for generations by winning so many, so fast. Woods did take more than two years to win his second… but then won his third, fourth and fifth within another year.
For Thomas, the drought hit nearly five years. In that time, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Bryson DeChambeau, Scottie Scheffler, Shane Lowry and Patrick Reed won their first; Collin Morikawa won two. Also in that time, Thomas managed only four top-10 finishes in majors while picking up nine PGA Tour victories.
“A lot of great players with unbelievable Hall of Fame-like careers, with multiple major winners have not won one until they are 30 or 35,” Thomas said before the tournament. “You never know, I could win one, two, three, four majors in a year. I just have to be patient and hope it happens as soon, rather than later. ”
Well, it happened literally as soon as it possibly could. And as Thomas noted himself afterward, those years of scar tissue helped him catch up to, and get past, multiple players who have not yet won their first PGA Tour event.
“I played that back nine beautifully,” Thomas said, a sharp contrast to the debacles of Mito Pereira, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Cameron Young. “The holes I did not make birdie or had birdie putts I had really good looks, and I hit great putts that just did not go in, and the holes I missed the green I was able to salvage a par, which is what you have to do to win a major. ”
The entire afternoon was a masterpiece of willpower and tenacity. Thomas began the day seven strokes back and fell as many as eight behind Pereira before making his charge. Not even Woods came back from that far down to win one of these.
“I kept telling myself, I’ve been here before,” he said. “Although it’s been five years, it’s somewhere down there.” And now, like Thomas, it’s back.
Now, when will he get No. 3?
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.