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23rd May 2022

Golf correspondent that wrote off Justin Thomas fronts up at press conference

Patrick McCarry

Justin Thomas

“I wanted to give him an opportunity to dunk on me.”

Kevin Van Valkenburg says he is not normally one for hot-takes, but the third round slumps of Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, at the PGA Championship, drove him to his keyboard.

Hours before the final round of the golfing major got underway, at Southern Hills Country Club, the ESPN writer had a story posted headlined by this – Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas missed another chance at a major moment.

Thomas and McIlroy had shot respectively poor third rounds of 75 and 76. The American was on -2, heading into his final round, while McIlroy was back on level par. With Chile’s Mito Pereira on -9 and others like Cam Young and Will Zalatoris the closest, best bets, it looked as though Thomas and McIlroy would be also-rans. Van Valkenburg wrote:

‘Watching two of the most talented players of the post-Tiger generation fail to summon their best golf in majors has become a maddening exercise in recent years. They have five majors between them, but none since Thomas won the PGA Championship in 2017.’

The writer did state that only a miracle would give either man a chance of contending on the Sunday. As it turned out, for Justin Thomas at least, that miracle happened.

Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas gets chance to respond

The 29-year-old carded a -3 round of 67 to finish on -5 for the championship at set a clubhouse target for Pereira and Zalatoris. McIlroy, meanwhile, shot 68 to finish eighth.

Pereira was in pole position, standing on the 18th tee, but his low drive found the creek and he would eventually double bogey. His one shot lead wiped out, and then some, he would miss out on a top-quality playoff that ended with Thomas seeing off Zalatoris to win his second major.

In fairness to Van Valkenburg, he fronted up at the winners’ press conference and gave Thomas an open goal to have some revenge if he, indeed, was aware of the ESPN article. The exchange went as follows:

VAN VALKENBURG: I don’t know anyone who would ever do this, but did you pay attention to any of the chatter that you had blown your chance on Saturday; that some people were writing you off?

JUSTIN THOMAS: No, I didn’t, but hell of a call by them… whoever said it.

The veteran writer would later tell No Laying Up that Thomas’ response came with a stare back in his direction. Van Valkenburg was happy, he said, to show up and take his licks.

As for Thomas, the American’s second major victory quelled some of the nagging questions that were starting to build, externally and internally.

“I just think it’s just so hard to win,” he told reporters. “Like, it is. I legitimately think it’s harder to win now than it was when I first came out on tour just for the sake of the depth of the Tour…

“I feel like I’ve played just as well as anybody on Tour this year. I just haven’t had the trophies to show, and I’d fallen in the world ranking, and that just kind of shows how strong it was or how strong the game of golf is.

I think it’s easy to start letting some doubt creep in and just kind of like, ‘All right, what’s going to happen, when is it going to happen, is it going to happen?'”

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