ERIN, Wisconsin — A memorabilia display in his father’s pro shop is a tribute to Justin Thomas’ skill, fearlessness and knack for the extraordinary. The whole thing was eclipsed Saturday in the U.S. Open when he turned the sport of golf into his own trophy case. Having become the first ever to shoot 9 under par in a U.S. Open round, Thomas stands alone.
Except, of course, on the leader board at Erin Hills. There, he is in a three-way tie for second place at 11 under, one behind Brian Harman. That was the kind of day it was and the kind of Open it is, as scores are unprecedentedly low and everyone seems fearless.
Still, as soft and windless as the new course has been, no one did as historically well as Thomas did. He reached the 18th green with a 3-wood on his second shot and calmly drained an 8-foot putt for eagle that sealed a 63.
“Obviously, the finish was awesome,” he said right after he finished his round, when he held a temporary two-shot lead. “I’d love to have another one of those.”
No one ever has had a round quite like the one he had Saturday. No one ever has had a lower score in any major. Four others have shot 63 in the U.S. Open: Johnny Miller in 1973, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf in 1980, Vijay Singh in 2003 — all on courses with lower par totals.
It appears that Erin Hills, a first-time venue, has a lower threshold than the normal Open course. Thirty-three players broke par Saturday, a record for an Open third round. But Thomas was not about to apologize. He went hard at 63, without even knowing that 9 under would be a landmark.
“When you give us soft greens, good greens and not much wind, you know there are going to be some good scores,” said the 24-year-old from Goshen, Kentucky. “As long as it’s a good tournament, it’s good for the U.S. Open and the USGA. Whether it’s 20 under or 20 over, they want a good tournament and an action-packed leader board.”
Thomas knows about tournaments and leader boards. His whole life has been marked by high aspirations and low scores. He is a third-generation pro, with his grandfather Paul having played in the U.S. Open and his father, Mike, the head pro at Harmony Landing Country Club in Goshen, site of Justin’s shrine.
“He’s not afraid. He never was,” Mike said, after he joked that he and his wife had “bribed” their way into the stands on No. 18 to watch their son chase history. “I just knew he was going to make it. This is what he does.”
As a 7-year-old, Justin got to hang out in the clubhouse the day Tiger Woods beat Bob May in a playoff at the 2000 PGA Championship. A few years later, Thomas won two junior tournaments in one day. He lost the 2010 U.S. Junior Amateur final to Smithtown’s Jim Liu, but he helped Alabama win the NCAA title in 2013 and the U.S. win the Walker Cup at National Golf Links of America in Southampton that same year.
He shot 59 this year in the first round of the Sony Open, the fourth of his PGA Tour victories. “I’ve felt like my game has been good enough to compete in the majors this year,” he said.
Thomas upstaged but did not outshoot Brooks Koepka (68) and Tommy Fleetwood (68), both at 11 under, or Harman (67). He finished the day 12 under and way under the radar. “First cut made [at the U.S. Open], too, so we’re breaking down all kinds of barriers,” said the 30-year-old from Georgia.
“Justin played a great round, but he was two, two-and-a-half hours before me. The golf course can change a lot especially in an Open,” Harman said.
Anything can change in an Open, such as the career trajectory of fan favorite and first-round leader Rickie Fowler (68), who is only two shots behind. First things first, however. Fowler is sharing a house this week with Thomas, so he said, “I want to hear some stories.”