St. X grad Thomas gets the best of mentor Mickelson in U.S. Open practice round

June 10, 2014 

US Open Golf

Justin Thomas hits out of a fairway bunker on the 14th hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, N.C., Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The tournament starts Thursday. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

CHUCK BURTON — AP

Phil Mickelson is known for his money games on Tuesday at majors, and this time he had a familiar partner (Rickie Fowler) against some new blood: Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.

Thomas had gotten a text from Mickelson shortly after qualifying for this week's U.S. Open that said "I've got Rickie. Get a partner and we'll play." Thomas, in his first full season as a pro, has been receiving words of encouragement from the five-time major winner after strong performances at last year's U.S. Amateur and Walker Cup, according a report on the Golf Channel's website.

"It allows me to see what's coming up," Mickelson said, "and it pushes me to work harder."

Thomas and Spieth — a combined age of 41, still younger than the 43-year-old Mickelson — built an early lead. Mickelson rallied to square the match, and then Spieth put it away with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole. Thomas, a former standout at St. Xavier and the University of Alabama, belted a tee shot down the middle on the 18th and chipped to tap-in range for par. The match was so tense on the 18th that Fowler asked for a ruling after a tee shot into the gallery.

Mickelson and Fowler both left birdie attempts from off the green — a pitch for Mickelson, a putt for Fowler — short of the hole.

"It was very subtly intense," Thomas said of the match. "We definitely know he's going to want a rematch. It was probably the first of many."

Thomas was thankful for Mickelson's mentorship.

"That says a lot about him," Thomas told the Golf Channel. "He's all business on the course, but to reach out and get to know the young guys, to want to see the game grow, that's really cool. He didn't have to play with us on Tuesday of U.S. Open week, but it was awesome that he did."

Another highlight for Thomas? The gallery.

It started small and by the back nine, the crowd lined every hole from tee to green. On the par-3 15th, the bleachers behind the green were full. After they played the hole, only a tiny section at the top remained with people.

"This is the biggest crowd I've ever played in front of," Thomas said. "And it's only Tuesday."

Thomas, who left Alabama last year and already is No. 7 on the Web.com Tour money list, is virtually assured of his PGA Tour card for next season.

"You'll get to know Justin Thomas soon enough," Mickelson said.

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