CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Mike Thomas had tears in his eyes as he reached into his front, right pants pocket. His son, Justin, had clinched the 99th PGA Championship title only minutes earlier, but Mike already had the winning ball, a Titleist 2 with four red dots around the number, to add to the collection.
He pulled his hand out of that pocket and proudly produced the ball, holding it between his thumb and two fingers for the swarm of reporters around him.
“This is going to go right with the rest of them,” he explained.
In the pro shop at Harmony Landing Country Club in Goshen, Kentucky, where Mike is the head professional, there is a display of golf balls, each one marked with the tournament at which it was used by his son in victory.
There are plenty of them in the display, from junior golf to the collegiate level to the professional ranks, in which Justin already owns five career wins at the tender age of 24.
This one was more special. It wasn’t just a major, it was the major most closely associated with PGA professionals.
He wasn’t at Quail Hollow Club this week, but he was watching from home. Not long after Justin had lifted the Wanamaker Trophy for the first time on the 18th green, they spoke with each other on the phone.
“You’re something else,” Paul told Justin. “This is the first of many.”
Justin didn’t get overly emotional in the aftermath of his win, but just like his father when pulling that winning golf ball out of his pocket, he did become a bit teary-eyed when speaking about what his grandfather means to him.
“I love my grandpa so much,” he said. “I’ve just spent so many times with him on the golf course. He’s watched me play and win so many junior golf tournaments. It would have been great if he could have been here. I mean, I understand he couldn’t. But I’m just glad that he could watch it and we can share this together.”
There’s a photograph on the wall in Mike’s office at Harmony Landing. It shows Arnold Palmer standing over a putt while Paul is in the background, puffing on a cigar as he waited his turn.
Justin loves that photograph. He often speaks about it when regaling people with stories of his family’s history in the game.
Soon there will be another golf ball added to the display, and likely another photograph nailed to the wall.
Right next to Paul Thomas and Arnold Palmer, you can just imagine an image of Justin and the PGA Championship trophy, the one The King was never able to win.
He’s now the eighth winner in history whose father was a PGA professional. Every major championship is special, especially a player’s first. Based on his bloodlines, this one was even more important.
“It’s just a great win for the family,” Justin said. “It’s a moment we’ll never forget — all of us.”