TULSA, Okla. — With a father and a grandfather who were golf instructors, Justin Thomas always had the genes for excellence in the sport. He rose to be a top junior player, appeared in a PGA Tour event while in high school and was named the nation’s top college golfer soon afterward.
By 2017, when Thomas was 24, he won his first major golf title, the P.G.A. Championship. No one would have blamed the Thomas family for investing in a mammoth trophy case to house all the top prizes to come.
Thomas has won his share of tour events, but five years later, he has not added to his collection of major championships, something he has called an underachievement. “I have not even close to performed well in my entire career in majors,” he said last month.
Friday at this year’s P.G.A. Championship, Thomas was at the forefront of a surging youth movement that took control of the leaderboard at the tournament’s midpoint. Battling gusting, swirling winds at the Southern Hills Country Club, Thomas mixed patience and aggression to shoot his second consecutive three-under-par 67 and position himself among the leaders.
Thomas has contended at the halfway mark of other major tournaments since 2017 and failed to win, but he feels buoyed by a new mind-set this season, which has been aided by a new, experienced hand at his side in Jim Mackay, who spent 25 years as Phil Mickelson’s caddie.
“It’s still golf, so it’s pretty hard sometimes,” Thomas said after his round on Friday. “But I’m very, very pleased with where everything is at and the frame of mind and the state of mind that I’m in.”
He added: “We’re halfway through this tournament, so it’s still a long way from home.”
Mackay had occasionally caddied for Thomas in previous seasons after separating from Mickelson five years ago. Eight months ago, Thomas asked Mackay, whose nickname is Bones, to take the job full time.
“Bones is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,” Thomas said. “He never wants to be underprepared. He wants to make sure he does everything he can so that he makes it feel like we have the best chance we can to win. And that’s very comforting as a player, because I have all the faith in the world in my caddie.”
Thomas began his round on Friday on the 10th tee and had two birdies and a bogey in his opening nine to make the turn at four under par for the tournament. With impressive length off the tee — he averaged 312.2 yards in driving distance Friday — he was able to par the challenging first two par-4 holes, which both measured more than 480 yards long. Two more pars followed at the third and fourth holes, and on the par-5 fifth hole, he sank a 24-foot birdie putt. After three routine pars, Thomas smashed a pinpoint drive on his final hole, and his approach shot from 92 yards to the uphill, plateaued ninth green stopped nine feet from the pin. Thomas then calmly rolled in his last birdie putt.
“I’m just feeling very comfortable standing over the ball, which is a good feeling,” Thomas said. “The way I played the last hole, I couldn’t have really drawn it up any better. Leaving that gap wedge from the fairway just under the hole there and making that putt right in the middle. That was a nice way to end it.”