It didn’t matter that all the conditions — comfortable temperatures, minimal wind, soft greens and fairways – were all ideal for low scoring at Medinah on Thursday. Justin Thomas certainly wasn’t thinking about that while warming up for his first round in the BMW Championship.
“I had the worst warmup I’ve ever had in my life,’ said Thomas. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know how I was going to hit it.’’
Neither did his father, who doubles as Thomas’ swing coach, or his caddie Jimmy Johnson.
“We were going to have to guess out there and try to find something,’’ said Thomas. “I’ve had that happen plenty of times, just not quite that extreme. I’m usually pretty good at finding my way around a golf course and finding something, but definitely didn’t expect that today.’’
Thomas definitely “found something’’ – at least enough to shoot a bogey-free 7-under-par 65 and claimed the first-round lead in the second of the three Fed Ex Cup Playoff events that conclude the PGA Tour’s 2018-19 season.
Jason Kokrak, who teed off two hours after Thomas, wasn’t so hot at the start of the day, either, but he matched Thomas’ 65, which tied the Medinah No. 3 course record.
“I didn’t make my best swing off the first tee, but I stuck to my game plan,’’ said Kokrak. In his case, making 110 feet of putts didn’t hurt, either.
Thomas and Kokrak owned a one-stroke lead over Jim Furyk and Joel Dahmen after the first round of this $9.25 million event. The co-leaders just got the job done in different ways.
Thanks to his ability to improvise Thomas could sum up his performance as “a very low-stress day.’’ That’s quite a contradiction from his mindset four hours earlier.
Good things started happening for Thomas after three pars to open his round. A 5-iron approach from 208 yards at No. 4 stopped a foot from the cup. The resulting tap-in was the first of his seven birdies in the remaining 15 holes. He strung his last three on holes 14-16.
Of the co-leaders Thomas definitely has accomplished more in his short career. He won the FedEx Cup in 2017. Kokrak has never qualified for The Tour Championship and he’s on the bubble for making it this time. He didn’t figure to be a contender at Medinah because he’s not one of the PGA Tour’s longest hitters, and Medinah generally favors a player with length off the tee.
“I guess I’m not considered a bomber,’’ said Kokrak, No. 32 in the FedEx Cup standings, “but I don’t think there’s too many guys that are going to consistently hit it by me. I’m more about fairways and greens, and I’ve been getting better and better with the irons the last couple for years. For me fairways are the key.’’
Thomas survived with a round that included 24 putts. A former PGA champion, he hasn’t won this season after accumulating eight victories in 2017 and 2018. A right wrist injury, which kept him out of three tournaments, might have been a factor.
“It’s weird. It’s been an odd season,’’ said Thomas. “The difference with this season and any other season is I’d won (in the past campaigns). I’m playing every bit as good as I have any other year this year, for sure.’’
If Thomas, now No. 15 in the FedEx standings, wins this week he’ll climb to No. 1 going into The Tour Championship.