CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Their relationship goes back more than a decade, which says something about two guys who are just 24 years old. They battled as junior golfers, and at rival colleges, and each could hold their share of bragging rights.
But Jordan Spieth matured a bit more quickly as a pro than Justin Thomas, who always praised his good buddy Spieth's success through an amazing early run on the PGA Tour. That included last month's Open Championship title at Royal Birkdale, as well as through all the hype Spieth was getting coming into the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.
Spieth was gunning for the career Grand Slam, and Thomas was ... well, searching for his first major championship, which came Sunday with a final-round 68 as he overtook a few of the game's other young stars in the process.
"I think what he learned is that he has to play his game and not force it,'' said veteran caddie Jimmy Johnson, who left Steve Stricker to work for Thomas full time two years ago. "Let the course come to him and play a little smarter. He was trying too hard, maybe. I don't think he was so much frustrated as he was playing too hard. He's just letting his potential go through now.''
It was that potential that convinced Johnson to make the move to Thomas -- at Stricker's urging.
All the while, Spieth was winning the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015 and contending at The Open and PGA. He was winning the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus and being pegged "The Boy Wonder,'' by none other than Thomas.
The two have been playful rivals, but sure, there was a tinge of envy. How could there not be?
"Frustration probably isn't the right word; jealousy definitely is,'' Thomas said, laughing. "I mean, there's no reason to hide it. I would say anybody is jealous that I won [Sunday]. I was jealous that Sergio [Garcia] won [the Masters]; that Brooks [Koepka] won [the U.S. Open]; that Jordan won. I wanted to be doing that, and I wasn't.''
Thomas and Spieth are part of the self-anointed high school Class of 2011 that includes, among others, Daniel Berger and Emiliano Grillo. One thing is clear: The young guys have no problem rooting for each other when they are not the one coming out on top.
"It's a cool little friendship we have,'' Thomas said. "I think it shows where the game is right now, where all of us are. We obviously all want to win. We want to beat the other person. But if we can't win, we at least want to enjoy it with our friends. I think that we'll all be able to enjoy this together, and I know it's going to make them more hungry, just like it did me.''
The victories by Spieth and Thomas in consecutive majors was a milestone of sorts, the first time two players under the age of 25 won back-to-back since 1923, when Bobby Jones won The Open and Gene Sarazen captured the PGA Championship.
Thomas, who began the final round 2 strokes behind Kevin Kisner, played the last 12 holes in 4 under par with his only bogey coming at the 18th, a meaningless one that meant a 2-shot victory over Patrick Reed, Francesco Molinari and Louis Oosthuizen.
Reed, another young American who has starred in two Ryder Cups and won five PGA Tour titles, finally cracked the top-10 in a major, his rally coming up short.
Hideki Matsuyama, bidding to become the first Japanese male player to win a major championship, continues to impress. This was his seventh top-10 in a major. Although he said afterward that he "did not have the technique to be confident enough'' on Sunday, he nonetheless was in the mix until he bogeyed the 16th hole.
Matsuyama tied for fifth with Rickie Fowler, another guy in search of his first major who made a spirited back-nine run with four consecutive birdies to get to 5 under par. At the time, it appeared that if he could get one more, he might be sitting comfortably in the clubhouse, perhaps with a chance at a playoff.
But Fowler parred the last three holes, and ended up 3 strokes back -- lamenting his bogey/double-bogey/bogey finish on Saturday and a triple bogey he made during the opening round.
Despite the disappointment, Fowler, 28, waited around to see the outcome, and was one of the first -- after Thomas' dad, Mike -- to congratulate him on the win beside the 18th fairway, along with Spieth.
"With all the young guys, we want to see everyone play well,'' Fowler said. "It's fun to see your buddies play well. But at the same time, it's even more satisfying when you get to go out and beat all of your buddies.
"It's a good kind of rivalry among the young guys. We all play together, we practice together, we travel together. JT lives right down the street from me. It's only going to make me want to beat him more. It's good to see.''
For Thomas, he now puts himself atop the list of player of the year candidates -- ahead of Spieth with three wins, including a major, and Dustin Johnson and Matsuyama, both with three wins, including two World Golf Championship events.
Thomas has four wins this season, dating to his victory in October at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. He then won twice in Hawaii, including a 59 on his way to a victory at the Sony Open. And then there was that third-round 63 at Erin Hills in the U.S. Open, where he faltered during the final round and tied for ninth.
Somewhat surprisingly, Thomas missed the cut in three consecutive events after that, including The Open. He quietly tied for 28th last week at the WGC-Bridgestone, then opened the PGA with a 73, before rounds of 66 and 69 put him in contention.
Perhaps Thomas got some of the karma that often goes Spieth's way. On the par-5 10th hole, Thomas' tee shot kicked out of a tree and into the fairway. And then 8-footer putt that appeared to have missed, teetered on the edge -- and then after about 10 seconds, dropped for a birdie.
It was his time.
For the eighth time in the past nine major championships, a first-timer raised the trophy, with guys under age 30 each capturing the past three.
In the chaotic aftermath, amid all the backslapping, high-fiving and hugging, Thomas and Spieth had time for quick embrace.
"I finally got one like you,'' Thomas said.
"No,'' Spieth said, pausing. "I don't have this one.''