If you were watching the final round of the Dell Technologies Championship, you may have noticed something from the event.

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are “good friends.”

Were you aware of that? Well, if you somehow weren’t after this year of major championship golf saw the pair of young stars win the British Open and PGA Championship respectively, NBC’s final round coverage made sure you were. The story of the game’s young stars like Spieth, Thomas, Rickie Fowler, and others getting along off the course as they seek to lead the next generation on it has been a favorite narrative emerging from golf as it looks to move forward in its A.T.W. (After Tiger Woods) Era.

In case you thought it was a recent phenomenon, this is a theme that has continued to surface time and time again throughout the season. Just look at the timestamps for some of these tweets (including from our own Jay Rigdon).

But what we’re really talking about here isn’t an enduring friendship between two guys who grew up in the sport together. What we’re talking about is a way to validate Thomas to the casual sports fan. Because these stories usually seem to occur more when Thomas is finding success versus Spieth. Why? It’s the golf world’s way of saying, “you should pay attention to this guy too because he’s really good and friends with a guy you may have heard of before.”

Spieth hit the mainstream first because of his major success at Augusta at such a young age. And his continued presence on major championship Sundays, including the good (three majors) and the bad (his infamous experience at Rae’s Creek in 2016), plus his youthful exuberance makes him the easiest answer to golf’s Next Big Thing. Even as far back as 2016, it was a running gag that Thomas was more known for being Spieth’s running buddy than for being a world class golfer in his own right.

Golf Digest even led an article when the two were paired at a WGC event last year by saying, “It’s a running joke that Justin Thomas is known more for being Jordan Spieth’s friend than he is for being, well, Justin Thomas.”

But one thing is now clear. After his 2017 season, Justin Thomas can now stand on his own as one of the world’s best golfers.

Thomas’ performance at TPC Boston, especially over the weekend, was an incredible display of his scoring power. During his Saturday round of 63, Thomas carded eight birdies on Par 4s, which is almost unheard of. On Sunday, Thomas held his nerve down the stretch out-dueling Spieth and Marc Leishman, again with a couple clutch birdies on Par 4s, for the victory.

With the playoff victory in Boston, the 24-year-old is now the frontrunner for the PGA Tour Player of the Year award. He leads the PGA Tour with five victories this season, breaking a tie with Dustin Johnson this weekend. That includes his first major title at the PGA Championship and a 59 in Hawaii back in January. Thomas also leads the tour with 11 Top 10 finishes this season and tops the money list.

Maybe Thomas has flown under the radar because he has really burst onto the scene this season. Thomas only had one PGA Tour victory before this season and his best major finish was a T18 at the 2015 PGA Championship. But now Thomas can make the claim to be one of the best players in the world. In a little over a year, Thomas has seen his stock skyrocket as he’s risen from #41 in the world all the way to #4. Given his recent form, he’s not stopping there on his march to the top.

Thomas’s breakout season is the best thing to happen to the sport as more and more young stars have stepped to the forefront in recent years. After it looked like Spieth, Rory McIlroy, and Jason Day might be the new Big 3 over the next decade, we’ve seen Thomas and Dustin Johnson come to the forefront after dominant seasons and major success. It won’t be long before Hideki Matsuyama enters that conversation as well once he wins his first major.

The Spieth-Thomas bromance might make for a great narrative and a great story, but it shouldn’t be the only one. Too often that’s been the case recently. Thomas has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt this week and this year that he is Speith’s equal and not just someone who is trying to step out of his shadow.

Indeed, their friendly rivalry could be one of the major tent poles of the sport for the next two decades. But it won’t be a real rivalry unless the pair are treated as equals and we can invest in Thomas without him having to be attached to Spieth at the hip. He’s more than good enough to stand on his own.

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.