But there has always been a smile on his face, an appreciation for the game and one of the best senses of humour you'll see from the upper echelons of championship tournament golf.
He is old school, even if he wears a hoodie, there's a golf scholar living underneath it who does things the old-fashioned way. As the saying goes, ‘When the going gets tough the tough get going.’ This has been proven many times, probably no more so than when Jim Furyk, the US captain of the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris, sent Thomas out #1 in the singles. He was drawn against Rory McIlroy and delivered the point. Remembering that they were 10-6 down going into the singles so that point had even more relevance. He delivered.
But set against this steely character is the tendency to fall out of grace and favour with his sponsors. Due to a homophobic slur, which was caught on a microphone at the Sentry championship in January 2021, he lost a lot of credibility with the general public and paid a heavy price in losing his clothing sponsor Ralph Lauren. Ralph Lauren was the only sponsor to leave Thomas at the time, but they did so because they couldn't be seen to be supporting a professional athlete who utters such words.
A human response
His response was as human and honest and reflective as I've heard and seen from an athlete who was fallen foul of using the wrong language. What was very noticeable at the time, was who came out in the press in support of the character of Justin Thomas. Rory McIlroy said, “he said he messed up; he's going to try to be better. And you know, Justin is true to his word, he will be. If anything, it will probably just make him a better person than he already is, which is hard because he's already a great guy.” Wonderful words and I'm sure they went a long way to helping Justin get through what was a tough time.
I mentioned earlier his sense of humour, and I have written about this incident last year. He was representing the USA in the Olympics and found himself in the gymnasium feeling a little bit out of place. Surrounded by the best athletes in the world he commented on Twitter with a laughy crying face, “Went into the Olympic village for a nice workout last night. Safe to say there weren’t many athletes fighting me for the 20Ib dumbbells”. And to add insult to injury, one of the athletes took a look at his 160-pound frame and said, “It looks like your sport’s clean!” Steroids have never been something a golfer really needs!
Ironically last week, with everything occurring with Phil Mickelson and his forced withdrawal from the game, it was ‘Bones Mackay’ carrying Thomas’s bag around Southern Hills last week. He gave his man a good talking to after his third round of 74 on Saturday, and Justin Thomas gave full credit to him in his winning press conference on Sunday.
Justin had already done something, which Mickelson had never done, which was award Bones the 18th hole flag, as a thank you for all of the hard work over the week. Mickelson won 5 Majors with Bones on the bag and didn't give one flag to Bones - which is the tradition.
A better example of the quality of his character I can't find. He has had his blips, but it does look like McIlroy was right, he was already a great guy, and he has become better.