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No rest for the best — FedEx Cup winner Justin Thomas forges ahead after breakthrough season


Justin Thomas had all of about three days to savor his PGA Tour Player of the Year honor before getting his bags packed for a long overseas journey and two more golf tournaments that, if he were completely candid, he might say he’d love to skip.

After winning five times during the 2016-17 season, including the PGA Championship, and adding the FedEx Cup title and a $10 million bonus — and then going straight to the Presidents Cup — Thomas might be excused if he wanted to celebrate in some manner other than swinging a golf club.

But he left his home in Jupiter, Florida, on Saturday night and arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, some 18 hours later as he is set to defend his title this week at the CIMB Classic at TPC Kuala Lumpur.

It is where his journey to greatness began a year ago — and also where he won his first PGA Tour title in 2015.

“It’s a place obviously that will always have a special place in my heart, being my first tour win, and then the first time going back-to-back and (now) having the chance for a three-peat,” Thomas said during a conference call. “It’s obviously great, but it’s going to be a little bit different this year just in terms of everything that’s happened and the lack of preparation I’ll probably get as opposed to the years prior.”

Past experience will obviously help, and Thomas’ game is in good shape, as he won the Dell Technologies Championship last month, finished second at the Tour Championship and then went 3-1-1 at the Presidents Cup.

But there is a big-picture question that Thomas will need to assess, one that he was already contemplating after capturing the FedEx Cup: How does he maintain and build on the success of this past season?

It is difficult to expect anyone to win five times in a year or win another major or FedEx Cup title. But those are the achievements Thomas will be judged against going forward.

“I’m going to try and spend a lot of time with Tiger (Woods) and definitely call and talk to Jordan (Spieth), because they’re the two people I’m closest to who have done something close to this and they’ve both achieved way more than this,” Thomas said. “I need to understand how to re-evaluate my goals, how to reset my goals, how to deal with everything.

“I’m going to have a lot more obligations; I’m going to have a lot more people wanting my time. I’m going to have a lot higher expectations from you guys (media), from the fans, from everything. So I’m going to need to understand and get better at handling all of it.”

Seeking the counsel of Woods and Spieth would seem a good idea. Woods, of course, has spent his entire career dealing with expectations, and he won a minimum of five tournaments a year in 10 different seasons.

Spieth is a more recent example, having won five times, including two majors, and the FedEx Cup in 2015, then having to answer questions about an “off” year in 2016 when he won “only” three times worldwide.

Thomas, 24, too, has had his own expectations to tackle, having competed with Spieth going back to their junior golf days and during college, where Thomas starred at Alabama when Spieth was at Texas.

“I’m going to try and spend a lot of time with Tiger (Woods) and definitely call and talk to Jordan (Spieth), because they’re the two people I’m closest to who have done something close to this and they’ve both achieved way more than this. I need to understand how to re-evaluate my goals, how to reset my goals, how to deal with everything.”

Justin Thomas

Seeing his friend and rival attain early success while Thomas was struggling to get his first victory has made the recent achievements all the more rewarding.

“It was easy to get impatient with myself, but my dad (Mike Thomas, also his swing coach) does a great job of that, of reminding me I’ve done a lot of great things, and I will continue to do a lot of great things if I continue to work hard and continue to do the right things,” Thomas said.

“I just had to try to stay patient and block all the things out that I hadn’t achieved maybe as much as some of my friends had.”

Now they’ll be trying to achieve what he did.

As for Thomas, to try to duplicate, or even come close, to the feat, he’ll need to sort through what will really be a short “offseason.”

He’s playing this week in Malaysia and then next week’s new event in South Korea, the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Both tournaments are limited-field, no-cut events, which will allow him and those competing at the very least to get a jump on earning FedEx points for the new season.

After these two events, Thomas plans to decompress, coming back for Woods’ Hero World Challenge in early December. A month later, he’ll be defending two titles in Hawaii, the Tournament of Champions and Sony Open.

“I know I’d rather have it this way than the alternative and not playing that well last year and not having to deal with it,” Thomas said. “But it’ll be different.”



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