ST. LOUIS -- Justin Thomas is in the rare position of going for a double-double. Judging from the way he played over the weekend, he has a real shot, he has a real shot.
Thomas is shooting to be a winner for two weeks in a row and two years in a row. He enters the PGA Championship this week, coming off a heart-tugging victory at the Bridgestone Invitational Sunday in Akron, Ohio. Plus, he is looking to defend the PGA Championship he won in North Carolina last August.
It is not every day that a golfer has that kind of opportunity, but it can be done. For proof and/or inspiration, he will be able to look in his own group on Thursday and Friday and see the last one to have done it. Tiger Woods followed up his 2006 PGA title and his 2007 Bridgestone victory by winning the 2007 PGA at Southern Hills. For good measure, the threesome will be rounded out by Rory McIlroy, who won the Bridgestone and PGA a week apart in 2014.
Bottom line, it has the makings of an interesting week at Bellerive Country Club, especially for Thomas, for whom the PGA packs an emotional wallop. The championship is run by the PGA of America, the organization of club pros — the organization that includes Thomas’ grandfather and father as members.
He takes that sort of lineage personally, witnessed by the way his eyes were filled with tears on Sunday. It was the first time that his grandfather and grandmother, Paul and Phyllis, saw him win in person. “When I had my putt, I kind of marked it and I turned around and I just happened to see my parents, saw my grandma and grandpa,” he said after his four-shot victory. “I just got a huge knot in my throat and I just had to put my head down. I’ve never gotten like that on the golf course before.”
The 25-year-old got a kick all week out of Paul, who had played that same Firestone Country Club course in the 1960 PGA Championship. The eventual champion noticed when his grandfather appeared on the driving range Saturday. “I have no idea how he got out there,” Justin said afterward, adding that the eldest of the Thomases made a flourish out of having ice cream for breakfast, causing the young children of several current pros to ask why they couldn’t have the same breakfast menu.
It is not known if the grandparents will brave the expected 90-degree heat and humidity here this week — Thomas himself took the day off Monday — but his parents (Mike and Jani) will be here, as usual. The event will resonate with the whole family. Justin spoke recently of having the Wanamaker Trophy on a mantel, making it the first thing a person sees when he or she walks in. And he often speaks about having been a 7-year-old spectator at the 2000 PGA Championship, when his dad was a PGA board member. So, he has vivid memories of Woods’ playoff win over Bob May.
After his own major title, Thomas had a celebratory dinner with Woods, got texts from David Ortiz (the golfer is a huge Red Sox fan) and spoke on the phone with football coach Nick Saban of Alabama (Thomas’ school). But none of them moved him as much as grandma and grandpa did.
Johnson & Johnson
Speaking of doubles, the field has two Zach Johnsons: The one who has won the Masters and British Open and Zach J. Johnson, a club pro from Farmington, Utah . . . Matt Dobyns, head pro at Fresh Meadow in Lake Success, is playing in his fifth PGA. He has been particularly looking forward to this trip, on which he is accompanied by his wife, children and parents, because his sister lives in St. Louis and he hasn’t seen her in a while . . . Also making a fifth appearance is Danny Balin, assistant pro at Westchester Country Club and two-time winner of both the Met Open and New York State Open. He advanced through the national club pros’ tournament on the seventh playoff hole.