Why Justin Thomas is going back to his middle-school putter at Tournament of Champions
Getty Images, Dylan Dethier
KAPALUA, Hawaii — Justin Thomas is throwing it back at this week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Like, way back.
Thomas is beginning the 2023 calendar year with an old Scotty Cameron putter he first put into play in middle school but hasn’t used in competition since college.
His new (old) weapon on the greens is a Scotty Cameron Newport Circle T with “JT” stamped on the back. And after consulting with our actual gear guru Jonathan Wall I can tell you the “SSS” and “303” stamped on the back are actually descriptive; the 303 refers to the type of stainless steel while SSS stands for “Surgical Stainless Steel.”
Thomas had been putting with a Scotty Cameron Phantom T5 Prototype, a dual-winged mallet head. Thomas switched into the Phantom T5 just before winning last year’s PGA Championship, although the shape of the head was similar to the Scotty Cameron X5 mallet he had used to win 13 times on Tour.
But on Wednesday at Kapalua he was rolling putts in the pro-am with the old-school blade and confirmed he’s planning to put it in play for the tournament, too, marking a return to simplicity and familiarity. Thomas’ first Tour victory — at the 2015 CIMB Classic — came with a blade putter. Now he’ll try to add another.
“I travel with this putter a bunch. I’ve brought it to tournaments with no intention of really using it, but it’s good for practice,” Thomas explained. He’s hoping it’s good for competition, too.
Thomas has worked hard to improve his putting with John Graham, a short-game guru who has been a trusted advisor since Thomas missed the cut at the 2020 Travelers.
“Since I’ve been working with John, my mechanics are like, night-and-day different,” Thomas said on Wednesday. “I’ve just had the tendency of really flaring it open on the takeaway and then dragging [the putter head] behind on the way through. I could do it repetitively, but when it was bad it was bad.”
Thomas is a streaky putter who has seen hot and cold stretches before; he actually gained strokes putting last year and ranked 85th on Tour, his best number since the 2017-18 season. He credits his work with Graham on that improvement.
“It’s wild how different it is,” he said of his stroke. But he finished 2022 on a cold streak; DataGolf measured him losing strokes on the greens in five of his final seven starts (not including the Hero World Challenge, which has no data), a stretch that included just one top 10 at the Tour Championship.
Thomas enters as one of the betting favorites, going off at +1100 behind just Jon Rahm (+650), Scottie Scheffler (+900) and Patrick Cantlay (+1000). He has a terrific record at Kapalua, with two wins and five top-fives in seven starts.
Thomas, who reached World No. 1 in 2018 and again in 2020, begins the year at No. 8.
New year, new putter. Well, old putter.
“I like putting with it,” he said with a shrug. “So why fight it?”