Aidan Thomas speaks with confidence and plays the game with brashness.
He’s the same kid who told St. Pius High boys golf coach Jorge Tristani that he would help bring a state championship in his freshman year. (Even though he didn’t have the best of days, the Sartans did win the state title in 2016.)
There’s great self-belief derived from the fact that even at 5-foot-8, 129 pounds he can drive the ball consistently past 325 yards. Three years ago, and six inches shorter, his tee shot once reached 410 yards.
But, there have been experiences of uncertainty, fear and disappointment, just as golf can often create. Most of those moments occurred at a younger age for Thomas, a 17-year-old who will play in the U.S. Junior Amateur that begins Monday at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J.
Any 8-year-old would be afraid of a rattlesnake. That was an encounter Thomas will never forget.
He learned about the game from his older brother, Tyrone, and their father, Marshall. Growing up on the Pueblo of Laguna they found a spot near the train tracks to hit balls.
They would lay a green mat to work on driving, hitting balls past the train tracks. Once, when Thomas went to retrieve balls, he met up with a rattlesnake.
Young Thomas ran home in fear. But that didn’t scare him away from the game that he now loves.
“(Golf is) not a job for me,” said Thomas, who won the Class 5A individual state title last season. “It’s fun for me. I try not to burn myself out. Some kids practice every day. I usually go five days. I try to give myself room to do other stuff, not just focus on golf. I make it fun. I just love golf. It’s easy to love. Well, it’s easy to love it when you’re hitting it good. If you’re hitting it bad it could be a different story.”
Thomas experienced uneasiness and felt awkward in his beginnings with golf. His first set of clubs was a big reason. It was the set called “Beat That,” trademarked by Hot Wheels of all companies. It only had six clubs.
Thomas sometimes felt embarrassed when other players asked about the set.
He said his height has never been a factor when it comes to golf.
“I’ve always been smaller than my competitors,” Thomas said. “But I can still hit it as far as they do, and probably farther than they do.”
Thomas also learned about the game through the NB3 Foundation, the organization led by four-time PGA Tour winner Notah Begay III, that educates children about golf and nutrition.
Thomas continues to train, and sometimes helps with the junior program at Santa Ana Golf Club, where he also learned, said Jason Montoya, the Santa Ana PGA pro who works with the juniors.
Montoya sees Thomas’ great potential.
“With his focus and drive there’s no limit to what he can do,” Montoya said. “He’s very competitive. That’s what makes him want to practice more.”
Thomas showed that competitiveness on June 13, when he won the U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier at UNM Championship Golf Course. Thomas beat Brendan Powers of Mansfeld, Texas, in a playoff.
Thomas birdied the first playoff hole, the par-5 No. 1, to grab the lone qualifying spot to Baltusrol.
“I was talking to my dad before the playoff started,” Thomas said. “I asked him if he was nervous because he usually gets nervous. I told him it’s just a game and you don’t have to worry. I explained to him every shot I would hit and I did it. I was paired with (Powers) and played with him the whole day. I knew how he played and I knew I could beat him.”