Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that I was going on and on about the tournament that brought us Hinako Shibuno? I kept saying that I hadn’t seen a tournament like that in years. To be careful, I should stop saying that so easily, because it happened again this week at the BMW Championship. The BMW is hopelessly entangled with the Tour Championship next week, and many things are at stake, including ratings bliss and an unthinkable amount of money. Justin Thomas has played himself into the perfect position to take it all.
That doesn’t mean that Thomas will win the Tour Championship, but after an amazing week in Illinois, he could come in last place in the next one and still take home a measly $83,000. I feel personally confident that he will do a lot better than that. The linking of these two tournaments is like giving the inside lane to the top of today’s leaderboard, along with those who have excelled during the year. The winner of the BMW will begin at minus 10, and the second place finisher, Patrick Cantlay, will start at minus 8. The field of 30 will be in hot pursuit of 15 million dollars, with 1.58 million going to the winner. That doesn’t just require the kind of golf Justin Thomas played this week, but the same nifty knack for breadwinning as well.
The real miracle of the week was the third round, in which Thomas came in with a 61. One or two tweaks, and it could have been even better. There were times he didn’t even see the fairway, but stood there putting for birdie just the same. He rolled in putts from everywhere, every time he had to. He rolled them in from the deep fringe, bunkers, and he rolled them in from far down the fairway.
Thomas is listed by one source as weighing in at 145 pounds. Another lists him at 160. That’s not very big, yet he is considered one of the heavy hitters on tour. When the commentators finally put the slow motion camera on his drive, I could see why. His stance is a little narrower for hips to go through faster, but I was astounded at the follow-through. His left heel came off the ground by what they estimated to be nine inches, and the blade of his right foot curled under in a contortion I did not see in real time. It was crazy risk-taking, and he did it all day, on every shot. I suppose that when those days come along when the magic chooses you, you can’t squander it, because it will just as often choose someone else the next day.
The third and fourth round were featured by a birdie barrage as pursuers tried to at least hang on, and pick up a stroke here and there where they could. Brandt Snedecker made round 3 unforgettable with two long bunker shots into the hole, just a hole or two apart. In the first, I didn’t see how he would get it there at all. Cantlay cut the lead to two on Sunday, but couldn’t keep the birdie train rolling at the end.
I came away with a wish list for the year that I will lamentably never see fulfilled. If I were sitting on Santa’s lap, I would plead with him for a series of bunker lessons from Snedecker, how to hit that short backswing knuckleball drive of Tony Finau, and putting lessons from anyone in the top ten. I’ve never seen ten feet appear so short. From Thomas, I want the gift of shots from 200 yards out, a few of those extra yards, and a little more of that mental steel.
Next week, then, is gravy week. The fortunate 30 will end the year with best they can manage as money falls from the skies, even on the losers. If Justin Thomas has another very good week like this one, he might be ranked #1 in the universe, and I will again be proclaiming this to be the best tournament I have seen in years.