Justin Thomas Surges Up Leaderboard After Putter Switch Between Rounds at WM Phoenix Open
Scottsdale, Ariz.—Justin Thomas only had a 20-minute intermission between his first and second rounds at the WM Phoenix Open, as rain and frost delays postponed the continuation of play on Thursday and Friday. But that was enough time for Thomas to make a significant adjustment that ultimately propelled him up the leaderboard.
The two-time PGA champion switched putters, changing from the 2024 model of his Scotty Cameron Phantom putter to his eight-year-old gamer of the same head shape.
“Actually, I used a very similar style, but a different putter the first round and then switched in between rounds,” Thomas said.
“The putter I went back to the second round is my gamer,” he continued. “The one I’ve used for a long time and had a lot of success with. The one that I used this morning was just the new model of it. I had no intention of using it… but I felt like I had a lot better chance of making putts with that than the other one.”
The switch seemed to work splendidly for Thomas. He followed up his 2-under 69 with a 6-under 65 to surge into a tie for fifth place, for now. Twenty eight groups had yet to finish their second rounds, and 10 groups hadn’t even teed off when play came to a halt at TPC Scottsdale on Friday.
But Thomas’s 8-under 36-hole total will put him in an ideal position heading into the weekend. He’s four strokes behind current co-leaders Andrew Novak and Nick Taylor, who both sit at 12-under.
Before making the midday equipment tweak, Thomas said he simply felt uncomfortable over the flatstick. Thomas’s father and swing coach, Mike Thomas, and his caddie, veteran Jim “Bones” Mackay, noticed that his stroke looked slightly off on Friday morning. According to Thomas, his hands were “getting a little behind” the putter head at address. The set-up issue caused him to start pulling putts (a left miss), whereas his typical miss is a push (a right miss).
“I think he could see that I was struggling, and I just didn’t feel good over it. I’ve struggled, which is a first in my career, the last season with pulling putts. It’s something I’ve never done. I’ve always been a pusher, if anything. So kind of adjusting to that is a little tougher,” Thomas said.
Thomas also explained that he couldn’t quite asses his mechanics with the putter at last week’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The Alabama product said that the venue’s poa annua greens threw off his feel.
“I think honestly how bumpy the greens were messed with me a little bit last week mentally and my confidence. Really tried to see a lot go in this Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, but just wasn’t quite comfortable enough in my hands,” he explained.
Despite his struggle to calibrate on the greens this season, it’s worth noting that Thomas already posted two solid finishes on Tour this year with the putter that was ultimately replaced on Friday in Phoenix. He arrived at the WM coming off of a tie for third at The American Express in La Quinta and a T6 finish at the shortened Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Thomas admits that most of his putting issues stem from his set-up positions and “trust” (or lack thereof), and he was able to make minor adjustments during the middle of his first round to improve both factors. The putter replacement only aided in that process of finding comfort on the greens. Thomas felt his hand placement moving further “forward” at address even before making the switch.
Thomas’s birdie in the first round on the infamous 16th hole Coliseum was the first putt in which all of those mid-round thoughts and tweaks finally clicked into place.
“I tried to kind of adjust during the round, during my first round,” Thomas said, “I felt like on 16, I was the first real putt of the day where I just kind of trusted my instincts and I really just tried to dial in my speed.”
Fans immediately launched into a booming “JT! JT!” chant after that birdie putt, and it continued well into Wyndham Clark’s subsequent routine and stroke. Thomas, though, had no issues with the boisterous crowd.
“The crowds, yeah. I saw people, groups of people at 5:00, 5:15 this morning walking in just hands full of booze. I just can’t fathom how those people are feeling right now, but if they’re still standing, power to them, and very happy that they were out cheering us on,” he said. “It’s a rowdy crowd. It’s a passionate crowd. That’s what makes this event special.”