Nobody takes ‘baby’ out of the corner like Justin Thomas: old faithful putter leads to 63

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JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Justin Thomas put his “baby” back in the bag and started making sweet music on the putting greens again.

The 28-year-old Thomas holed more than 100 feet of putts and made nine birdies on the day en route to shooting 8-under 63 at Liberty National Golf Club to share the first-round lead of The Northern Trust with World No. 1 Jon Rahm.

“I’ve got my baby back in the bag, my gamer,” he explained after the round. “Sometimes you’ve got to put her on the shelf every once in a while to make her feel like she needs to perform a little better.”

Thomas had struggled with his putting enough between his rousing victory at the Players Championship in March and the U.S. Open in June that he benched his Scotty Cameron by Titleist Futura X 5.5 prototype putter for the past two months.

That changed after Thomas returned to his hometown of Louisville last week to host a junior tournament that bears his name. One of the junior golfers was using the putter that Thomas has had so much of his success with and asked him, “when are you going to start using it again?”

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“I found myself defending myself to this 15-year-old,” Thomas recalled. “I was like ‘Why am I not using this thing?’ I’ve had a lot of success. It’s not like I’m making a lot of putts with what I have. If you’re putting well, any of us can go out and putt with anything. I don’t know, it kind of hit me. I’m like ‘The kid’s got a point.’ They designed a putter after it, maybe I should bring it out. When I brought it out, it looked good, it felt good.”

Did it ever. Thomas rolled in three birdies in a row starting at the third hole and closed with another string of three birdies after his lone bogey of the day at the 15th hole. Thomas said he came to the realization that he was spending too much time trying to perfect his stroke, rather than focusing on feel.

“With putting, I don’t need to be a robot,” he said.

The Northern Trust
The Northern Trust

Justin Thomas during the first round of The Northern Trust on August 19, 2021 at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey. Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via AP Images

Rahm, playing one group behind Thomas in the afternoon wave, played bogey-free in tough, breezy conditions in his first start since the British Open. (A positive COVID-19 test result knocked him out of competing for Spain in the Tokyo Olympics.)

“I was honestly thinking there will be some rust to get rid of, and there was a little bit,” he said. “It’s even hard to say because those first five holes or six holes, even though I was 2-under par, it was very close to being a very different story. That chip-in on 3, if it doesn’t hit the hole, I’m looking for a 40-footer for par. Made a great up and down on 4 and 5. I guess that’s why you practice the short game because that is three holes I stole a couple shots and got really full of confidence.”

While Rahm and Thomas were able to go low, the next best score was recorded by Harold Varner III, who shot 5-under 66 in the morning.

“The fact that me and Justin shot a low score like that, it shows it’s possible, but we both play really, really good golf,” Rahm said. “I’m assuming he did as well. I felt like I played great.”

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