NORTON — Justin and Jordan.
Jordan and Justin.
Both 24 years old. Both American. Both golf stars at NCAA football factories. Each one praised at one time or another as the next superstar of golf. Both winners of coveted majors — three for Jordan Spieth, one for Justin Thomas.
Justin and Jordan have known one another since they were 14 and were picked to represent the United States in the Evian Junior Masters in France. They were the best young amateurs, the best high schoolers, then the best in college. Now they are the best on the PGA Tour.
Thomas has followed Spieth most of the way. Spieth beat him in a high-profile NCAA championship match in 2012 when Spieth was a Texas Longhorn and Thomas represented Alabama’s Crimson Tide. Spieth was first to get his tour card, first to win a major (2015 Masters), and first to make it to the cover of all the magazines.
Thomas found himself following Spieth again Monday in the final round of the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston. The bachelor from Kentucky teed off six minutes after Spieth and followed his friend for 18 tense holes. Thomas passed his rival with a 4-foot birdie putt on No. 14 and shot 66 to win the 15th Labor Day “address the ball” event in Norton. Spieth shot a 67 and finished second. Thomas interrupted his post-match press session to give Spieth a man hug.
“There’s definitely jealousy,’’ Thomas said after his win. “I still get jealous any time any of my friends win and I don’t. I’m extremely happy for them, I’m excited, but I’m jealous. I wish I had three majors right now. I mean, I’m obviously pleased with one [PGA Championship last month], but I wish I had three.
Spieth has been The Man. But now Thomas is on a roll.
“I think we’ve kind of pushed each other at every level,’’ said Thomas. “In college we did, and in amateur golf we did. We were always competing, whether it was, you know, we want to be the top of the Rolex Rankings in junior golf, when we were 15 or 16. We want to be the low junior golfer at the US Amateur. We want to make the cut as an amateur in a tour event. We want to be college player of the year and want to lead our team’s scoring average. We’re always competing. It’s just that now we’re at the top level that you can get.
“It’s really cool. It really is. The fact that Jordan and I finished 1-2 this week. We’ve done that a couple of times now and it’s been a fun year.
Imagine. You grow up in Louisville, son of a golfer, grandson of a golfer, and by the time you are 14 you are identified as one of the best young golfers in the country. And then there’s this kid in Texas who is just like you. Maybe better than you. He’s the exact same age. You are teammates and roommates and rivals. All the way up the ladder. And you both make it to the top before you turn 25.
“We can share experiences with each other that we can’t really describe or explain to anybody else that’s our age,’’ said Spieth. “It creates a unique relationship . . . The first time we met was Walnut Creek. It was an AJGA junior All-Star event. I was 13 and he may have turned 14. It was like the 12-to-15-year-old age group and he traveled in and we battled it out on Sunday and we were about tied and I edged him out that day. We played a few more tournaments throughout the year and went back and forth.’’
There’s a nifty photo of Thomas and Spieth from their days as young teen days as teammates in France. In the shot, they are sitting on grass, wearing shorts, matching team shirts and golf shoes. Thomas is eating a sandwich and making a face in the photo.
“The food wasn’t great in France,’’ he recalled. “I couldn’t find very much to eat at that time. I still don’t know what was on that sandwich, but I ate them for the entire week. I think it was a cheese sandwich.’’
Spieth wound up caddying for Thomas in France.
“I finished second in the men’s and then first for the Americans,’’ said Thomas. “And then the low three juniors got to play with Juli Inkster in the pro-am. I don’t know what Jordan finished but he came out and caddied for me the next day. He wasn’t a very good caddie, I don’t think.’’
Friends. Teenage goofballs. Teammates. Rivals.
And now locked in a battle for the FedEx Cup playoff championship.
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