In his 30 years as a golf pro, including 13 at Long Island clubs, Craig Thomas has developed a strong reputation as a teacher. This past Jan. 17, he reinforced it by giving lessons on humility and generosity. That was when he gave something else to one of his current members at Metropolis Country Club in White Plains — a kidney.
“It’s a guy who has been here for 40-plus years, a nice guy, a good member, someone who has always been very nice to me,” Thomas said. “I don’t have any blood relatives (who might eventually need a kidney) so there was no reason not to do it.”
Now, less than five months later, Thomas is in the running for a place in the U.S. Open. He has regained his full strength and distance, made it through local qualifying and is headed for the 36-hole sectional qualifier Monday at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J.
“I figured I’d give it one more shot and see what happens,” the 54-year-old said Wednesday before playing in the final round of the Met PGA Head Pro Championship at Garden City Country Club. “Maybe the 20th time is the charm or something.”
Thomas has had an accomplished playing career, having participated in four PGA Championships. He was the first ever to shoot 64 at Bethpage Black, setting the record in the 2007 New York State Open. It has been matched six times, five by PGA Tour players in the U.S. Open and the Barclays. “I can’t tell you who has done it, but I know nobody has done better,” he said.
A place in the U.S. Open is one missing line on his resume. Having spent 11 years at Lawrence Golf Club and two more at the Muttontown Club in East Norwich, he was intrigued by the fact the Open this year is on Long Island. He played Shinnecock Hills once, on a golf holiday with two of his members.
Loyalty to his members took on a whole new proportion this winter, when he drove through a Manhattan blizzard for hospital pre-testing. It was part of his sacrifice for a golfer whose name he declines to publicize.
“He’s doing great,” the pro said. “We actually had dinner together Saturday night.”
They spoke of the having been through an experience that was daunting and draining for the donor as well as the recipient. Within a month of the operation, Thomas was well enough to make his annual trip to Florida and play with friends in a pro-am. His game was not quite the same, though. He figures he needed at least one extra club than normal on every shot.
“The clubhead speed was down a little bit. I had to be patient. Compared to what he’s going through,” Thomas said of the recipient, “and what a lot of other people are going through, I felt fine. Just knowing people in the hospital and seeing their issues, it puts things in perspective. I’m healthy. I’m playing golf. How bad can that be?”
Service always has had been more positive than negative for Thomas, a Marine in the 1980s. He did not leave that philosophy behind when he became a golf pro right after he left the military. The Met PGA named him the 2017 Deacon Palmer Award winner in honor of his inspiration and selflessness.
A new equipment contract with Callaway has helped him regain his distance, he said, and encouraged him about the Open. He is embracing the thought of 36 grueling holes in one day at Canoe Brook.
“I’ve played down there in this thing more than I care to remember,” he said. “I’m foregoing a practice round this time. I figure I’ve seen it enough. I’m just going to enjoy myself, and try to make a lot of birdies.”
Mike Matos, Spring Lake GC, 13th hole, 145 yards, 9-iron
Bob Wagner, Spring Lake GC, 13th hole, 145 yards, 9-iron
John Lovrich, Crab Meadow GC, 13th hole, 160 yards, 5-wood
Gene Hall, Glen Cove GC, 16th hole, 170 yards, 7-iron
John McGrady, Glen Cove GC, 11th hole, 158 yards, 7-iron
Peter Cohen, Timber Point Blue, second hole, 134 yards, pitching wedge
Mark Kaufer, Woodmere Club, third hole, 135 yards, 9-iron
Peter Hirsh, Old Westbury G&CC Overlook, eighth hole, 180 yards, 3-hybrid
Richard Kaye, Wheatley Hills GC, eighth hole 137 yards, 7-iron
Peter Zuckerman, Engineers CC, 14th hole, 105 yards, 9-iron