Thomas, who will be a junior this fall at Marquette, begins play at 8:20 a.m. in the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. It will be his debut on the USGA scene.
The tournament will be played at The Club at Carlton Woods, in The Woodlands, Texas. The Nicklaus-designed course will play to a par-72 and cover 7,284 yards.
Thomas qualified for the USGA event recently at Old Hickory Golf Club. Thomas shot a a 3-under 69 in Round 2 following his 75 in the first 18 holes. Thomas finished second in the qualifier to Cheng Jin, of Singapore, who took part in the tournament here. Cheng fired rounds of 71-68 for a 36-hole total of 5-under par to claim medalist honors. The top two players advanced to the national tournament.
“Old Hickory was in great shape and (it) was playing tough,” Thomas said. “The golf course is difficult and your round can go from good to bad in the matter of a few holes. You really have to know where you can miss a shot and where you can’t miss a shot if you are going to play well at Old Hickory.”
The opening round of 75 was not what Thomas had in mind. But he knew he could play better and still earn a berth to the Junior Amateur.
“I had a triple on the 15th hole, so after the round I knew I could go lower in the second round,” Thomas said. “When I did miss hit a tee shot or approach shot I managed to recover. I’ve learned that golf is a game where you have to manage your misses and find ways to make a par instead of bogey or make a bogey instead of double bogey.
“I told myself that I was right in the hunt and that with a low score in the afternoon, I might pass several good players who shot in the low 70’s in the morning.”
That’s exactly what happened.
“The second round was different, in that I was comfortable with my tee shot target lines, and I was careful with what greens to shoot for the flagstick and when to play to the middle of the green,” Thomas said.
On the front nine, Thomas birdied holes 1, 5, 6, and 8. While on the back, I birdied holes 10, 12, and 17.
“My only birdie putts under 5 feet were holes 10 and 17, so the other putts were all around 10 to 12 feet,” Thomas said.
He thought he had done well enjoy to get out of the qualifier. Still, there was some doubt.
“I knew that I would have a good chance when I finished and looked at the scores already posted, but I was nervous, knowing that there were still some very good players out on the course who were capable of shooting a low number,” Thomas said.
When he found out he had qualified, Thomas noted it took some time for him to register he was going to play in a USGA tournament.
“I didn’t really know what to think,” Thomas said. “The fact that I have qualified hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I thrilled to have qualified for such a this USGA championship.”
This will be Thomas’ first time to play in a USGA championship tournament. It has been a goal of his for some time.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little kid and I am so excited to play in a tournament with many of the best players in the United States and other countries,” Thomas said.
He will going with his father, Scott, who has been one of the top amateurs in the region and state for decades.
However, Thomas will not be taking his regular caddy.
“I wanted to take my friend, Matt Henderson, who caddied for me at Old Hickory, but he is playing in another golf tournament,” Thomas said. “Parents are not allowed to caddy so I have asked for local caddy who hopefully knows the golf course.”
The U.S. Junior Amateur consists of 36 holes of stroke play Monday and Tuesday (July 22), after which the field will be reduced to the low 64 scorers. There will be six rounds of match play, starting Wednesday (July 23). The quarterfinals and semifinals are slated for July 25. The championship is scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final on Saturday (July 26).
Thomas will be playing with Eric Bae, of Cary, N.C.; and Dwight Cauthen, of Columbia, S.C.
His expectations for this USGA tournament are the same as any other he competes in.
“My expectations are to play the best that I can, and stay mentally strong,” Thomas said. “If I get beat in match play by someone who plays great that day, and I play the best I can, then hats off to him, he deserved to win. I make mental mistakes and play poorly it will be disappointing because I beat myself and I didn’t play smart golf.
“My goals are to stay confident and patient, trust my swing, follow my golf course game, have fun for sure and hopefully play well enough to make match play.”
He knows how to play in big tournaments, too. He scored a big tournament victory recently.
Thomas is fresh off winning the Missouri Junior Amateur Championship. Thomas won state junior amateur with a two-day score of 139 on rounds of 69 and 70. Jack Litzelfelner, of Jackson, came back from one shot back and tied Thomas. The two went into a sudden death playoff. Thomas cooly birdied the first playoff hole to win.
There were 131 youngsters taking part in the tourney for boys ages 14 to 18 at the Paradise Pointe Golf Complex just north of Kansas City.
After the U.S. Junior tournament, Thomas said he will be playing in the AJGA Kansas City Junior.
“I might play in a couple more St. Louis area events,” Thomas added.
Then it will be time to hit the books and begin school again at Marquette.