ERIN, Wis. — For his 61st shot of the third round on Saturday at Erin Hills in the 2017 U.S. Open, Justin Thomas grabbed his 3-wood on the 667-yard par-5 final hole. He pumped it 330 yards off the tee onto the wet turf where it came to a stop just shy of a fairway bunker. Then he had a decision to make.
Of all the memorable and historic 63 strokes Thomas took on Saturday in his record-breaking round, the 62nd one is what will be replayed for the next decade.
Thomas, who was at the time tied for the lead at 9 under, stood atop one of the innumerable rolling crests here at Erin Hills with his hands on his hips. He peered down the runway of a hole nearly half a mile long as playing partner Jonathan Randolph prepared to lay up from further back. Thomas couldn’t have known it at the time, but he was staring into major championship lore.
The massive, sweeping green grandstands that blockade the 18th green from the rest of the world served as a backdrop for what would be one of the great shots of Thomas’ life. He pulled a 3-wood and an iron, gently whipping them both back and forth next to his ball as Randolph walked. The crowd lining the 18th fairway roared when he swung the 3-wood. Then they went mute when he grabbed the iron.
The crowd at Erin Hills clearly thirsted for history.
Even though Thomas had 310 yards to the hole and a 290-yard carry (!) with nowhere to miss to the left or behind the green, there was never any question about what he was going to do. He wrapped his fingers around that 3-wood and did what Justin Thomas does: He hit the hell out of it.
It cleared 290 in the air with a slight cut, landed and rolled. It stared at the hole before scooting past. It came to a stop 97 inches from the cup. Thomas would have that for a record-breaking 9-under 63. The lowest score to par in U.S. Open history, the 31st 63 in major championship history and just the fifth 63 in…