A Generation Driven to Win, but Practiced in Camaraderie


Fowler, 28, posted a final-round 67. He made four birdies in a row on the final nine, which he played in 32 strokes. It was a closing charge worthy of a champion, though he finished three shots behind Thomas. Fowler rightly chose to frame his finish as a major sign of progress.

“Made all the cuts,” the 10th-ranked Fowler said, referring to the four majors. “That’s a good step.”

It was more than seven of the nine players ahead of Fowler in the world rankings could say. And yet the attitude persists in golf — and elsewhere — that anyone who doesn’t win is a loser. The proof was in this tweet by the veteran tour caddie Kip Henley after the final putt dropped Sunday: “I never said I had a good week in an event I didn’t win.”

By that logic, the 79-time tour winner Tiger Woods is not very successful — he has lost roughly three out of every four starts he has made as a pro on the PGA Tour. The bottom line as a measuring stick is a prescription for unhappiness. The gym rat pack is wise to measure success differently.

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Justin Thomas with his parents, Jani and Mike. Mike Thomas, a club professional, did not pressure his son to take up golf.

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Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Spieth, 24, who won the British Open and who finished outside the top 10 in the other three majors, said: “Over all, when I look back on the year in the major championships, shoot, it was fantastic. If I did this every year, I would go down as the greatest ever to play the game. I need to look at it that way, and I am.”

He added, “You can have a fantastic year without winning a major.”

It’s probably not a coincidence that men’s golf right now is the province of young players who revel in the process. At every tour event, you can find golfers like Jason Day, 29, who were steered to the sport by parents who stressed winning, an approach that can unintentionally set their children down the path of depression or anxiety by conditioning them to judge their self-worth by their scores. Day’s father sometimes struck him after he played poorly, but after his father’s death, a teenage Day fell under the sway of Colin Swatton, who became his coach, caddie and champion.

Day’s experience is an exception among the gym rat pack, most of whom were guided in a different direction. Thomas’s father, Mike, is a club professional and was his first teacher. Although his father was immersed in the game, he didn’t insist that Thomas play. And after Thomas gravitated to golf anyway, his father refrained from burdening him with demands or expectations.

At a news conference after his victory, Thomas was asked the greatest lesson his father taught him.

“Just enjoy it,” said Thomas, who described himself as lucky to have “very supportive parents that didn’t push me.”

He added: “They treated me the same whether I shot 66 or 76. They are a huge reason — the reason — why I’m sitting up here right now.”

The way Thomas was reared perhaps also helps to explain the calmness that he felt before teeing off in the second-to-last group on Sunday. He said he remembered thinking that he would have no reason to hang his head as long as he gave it his best effort, endeavored to stay in the moment, stuck to his game plan and avoided mental errors.

If he could do all that, Thomas reasoned, the round would have been a success no matter where he finished.

The gym rat pack relishes every opportunity to compete, which is why complacency doesn’t appear to be in its vocabulary. Thomas, who has won four times this season, didn’t sound as if he is ready to take his foot off the pedal and cruise through the coming FedEx Cup playoffs.

Asked where he stands vis-à-vis the high goals he set for himself at the beginning of the season, Thomas smiled and said, “I’ll let you know when the year’s over.”

By pushing themselves individually, the players in the gym rat pack are collectively raising everyone’s level. After Thomas’s victory, another 24-year-old, Daniel Berger, who missed the cut at Quail Hollow, took to Twitter and wrote, “I can’t even explain how I’m feeling right now.”

Thomas, added Berger, “makes me want to go and hit range balls for the next 5 hours!”

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