This past weekend, Justin Thomas pulled off one of the greatest comebacks ever at the Players Championship, which features arguably the PGA Tour’s most competitive field and is often referred to as golf’s unofficial 5th major. Trailing by 7 strokes with 36 holes to go, Thomas shot 12 under par over the tournament’s last two days to finish at -14 and earn a 1-stroke victory.
We break down Thomas’ strain and recovery data leading up to the final round of the tournament, as well as his heart rate during a few of its defining moments.
In the week prior to the Players Championship, Thomas made clear efforts to ensure his body was not enduring a greater workload than it could handle.
The graphic below shows his daily strain (cardiovascular exertion on a 0-21 scale) and recovery (how prepared your body is to take on strain, from 0-100% and categorized as red, yellow or green). By keeping his strain in line with his recovery each day, Thomas enabled himself to be well rested and primed to perform when it mattered most.
You can see above that Thomas’ recovery was trending in the right direction heading into the tournament. However, what really stands out is that it didn’t peak at the start of the Players Championship, but rather towards the finish.
On Day 1 of the tourney, Thomas’ recovery was in the yellow at 62%. He shot a 1-under-par 71. Thomas was 77% recovered (green) on Day 2, but was sitting at 1 over par through the first 9 holes. At that moment he was behind the cut line and was in serious danger of making an early exit from the tournament.
However, Thomas shot 3 under on the back 9 to end the day 2 below par after a second straight 71. He was still 7 strokes off the lead.
Saturday, Day 3, Thomas awoke with an 84% recovery, his best of the weekend. He then played his best round of the weekend as well, shooting an 8-under 64 to end the day at -10.
On Sunday Thomas’ recovery was green for the third day in a row, 77%. Part of what allowed his body to maintain such favorable recovery despite high levels of strain was exceptionally good-quality sleep. Thomas got 3+ hours of restorative REM sleep each night of the tournament (people generally spend roughly 20-25% of their time asleep in REM).
The last day of the tournament was by far the most strenuous for Thomas. His strain hit 16.4 on Sunday after being in the 13-14 range over the previous three days. Since strain is derived from a person’s elevated heart rate, it quantifies things beyond physical exertion as well–like the stress and intensity of a pressure-packed final round of golf.
Thomas’ climactic Sunday at the Players Championship was not short on heart-pumping moments. Here’s his heart rate prior to and during an eagle putt on the 11th hole that gave him the tournament lead:
It peaked at 125 beats per minute as he swung his club in celebration after seeing the ball drop into the cup.
And here is Thomas’ heart rate as he watched his drive on the 18th and final hole, which came precariously close to splashing into the water:
Once his ball rolled to a stop safely on the fairway, with a 2-stroke lead Thomas was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief, and three shots later he was the Players Champion.