By Tony Jimenez
TROON, Scotland (Reuters) – Justin Thomas, who shares the same birthplace as the late ‘Louisville Lip’ Muhammad Ali, produced a special ‘Louisville chip’ on the way to a four-under-par 67 in the British Open first round on Thursday.
The 23-year-old made a cracking start to his debut in golf’s oldest major championship, roaring to four-under with birdies at each of the opening four holes.
Thomas then had to cling on to his score on the inward half at Royal Troon, by far the most difficult nine-hole stretch on the rugged Ayrshire links.
The American had ‘Lady Luck’ on his side at the treacherous 482-yard par-four 11th, a hole that has already caused major grief with a string of big numbers including nines from 2001 Open champion David Duval and Australian Steven Bowditch.
The players face a daunting tee shot there, with a railway track and thick gorse to the right and more heavy rough on the left, and Thomas had to hole out from a greenside bunker to save par.
“The hard thing about it is a lot of those holes on the back nine are so hard but the thing about that one is it’s such a hard drive,” he explained.
“If you do hit a good drive you have anywhere from maybe a four-iron to a three-wood in and the wind is in and off the left and you have the out of bounds to the right and bunker to the left.
“If I could play 10 and 11 in three or four-over combined for the week I’d probably take that right now. To make that four that’s when you say ‘there are no pictures on scorecards’.
Thomas, who won the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia in November, was positively drooling about the joys of seaside golf.
“I love it,” he said of the links experience. “I wish we played it more often.”
Thomas is staying in a nearby house with compatriots Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker and defending champion Zach Johnson.
“We had a great afternoon yesterday,” he said. “Rickie travels with two baseball gloves and a ball so I think him and Jimmy started throwing.
“One by one we started going outside and we started finding balls everywhere, soccer balls, tennis balls, everything… and we pretty much started playing backyard baseball.
“We probably were out there for two and a half, three hours. It was great. We were like little kids again.”
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)