Justin Thomas Returns to the PGA Championship

 Titleist Brand Ambassador Justin Thomas poses with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club on August 13, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

On Thursday of the 2019 PGA Championship, just around noontime, you could tell that Justin Thomas was locked in — steely-eyed, unspeaking — as if he were on the first tee at Bethpage Black. One hand was clutching a deli sandwich, the other tuning his iPhone into first-round coverage. Sitting inside a conference room on the second floor of Titleist Ball Plant 3 — having just witnessed how his Pro V1x golf ball is made — JT wasn’t going to miss a shot.

“I like watching guys struggle and see who can manage their game the best and grind out pars – when I’m not playing,” JT, the 2017 PGA Champion, would say later. “And Bethpage is full of that.” 

“How much of the tournament will you watch this weekend?” someone in the room asked.

Justin — who typically enjoys binging on documentaries and rewatches of his favorite shows, “Entourage” and “Breaking Bad” during downtime — paused, then looked up from the screen.

“All of it." 

Three days earlier, Justin had been forced to withdraw from the PGA Championship with a nagging right-wrist injury that just wasn’t ready for Bethpage’s ligament-testing rough. He hadn’t missed a major since his rookie season.

Upon departure from Long Island, Justin headed north to Patriot Place in Foxboro, Mass., home to not only Gillette Stadium and the New England Patriots, but also the TB12 Sports Therapy Center. That’s where he spent the remainder of the week undergoing intensive therapy sessions up to three times a day. (JT had received an initial referral from one of his golfing buddies, Tom Brady.)

“I went later in the healing process so the intense treatment a few times a day was good,” JT told Team Titleist. “I was very tight in my pressure points in my hand, elbow, and forearm and it was very helpful them getting worked out.”

After his morning treatment that Thursday, Justin hit the road for the 45-minute drive to New Bedford, headed for a last-minute but long-awaited visit to Ball Plant 3, Titleist’s global center of golf ball technology. He spent the next 90 minutes immersed in the manufacturing and quality processes that go into making every Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf ball — from core mixing to urethane casting to x-ray inspection. For the record, he kept the right wrist active — bouncing still-warm Pro V1 cores off the floor and tossing Pro V1x cores with fresh casing layers from one hand to the other.

Near the end of the tour, a BP3 technician who was turning the corner, recognized the major champion immediately.

“How’s the wrist feeling?”

“Good, it's getting there,” JT answered. “At least I know my golf balls are going to be ready when I come back!" 

“It was just awesome,” JT recalled. “Very eye opening, but seeing the process up close also gave me even more confidence than I already had in my golf ball. I always trust my go-to cut shot — that’s a shot I’m very comfortable and most consistent with distance-control wise — and you see why I’m able to have so much confidence in it when you go through the plant.

“I’m always telling people they need to go there and experience it. The process just to make one single golf ball and then see how it’s made the exact same, thousands and thousands of times more — it just was extremely impressive. Everybody in the plant takes so much pride in working there and being a part of making the #1 ball in golf — it was so great to finally meet them.”

This week, Justin returns to the PGA Championship more than two years removed from his last appearance, but with four more wins under his belt since the visit to Ball Plant 3. His latest victory — Sunday’s three-shot triumph at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, his 13th Tour win in just 152 starts — moved him back to No. 1 in the world. (The wrist is working well.)

On the first tee at TPC Harding Park, Justin will tee up his Pro V1x, marked with his now-customary four red dots around the play number. The red is a nod to the University of Alabama, where he led the Crimson Tide to a national championship. There isn’t any significance to the dots, considering he changed his mark every single event as a junior golfer.

“I guess I just played well one event and stuck with it,” he said.

Clearly, he hasn’t missed many shots since.