Justin Thomas: Exclusive interview on the golf mastery process

Justin Thomas is the young man who took our collective breath away last week when he was in contention to the very end of the Humana Challenge that Bill Haas won by a shot. If Thomas hadn’t hit his 2-iron layup into a fairway bunker and then dumped his wedge in the canal for a double, those two strokes would have tied Haas for the lead. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, but nevertheless.

I caught him on the range after watching him hit balls into orbit for an hour and a half and it was as impressive as that overcooked 2-iron.

I write a daily golf mastery blog called “Eye On The Tour.com”

Okay.

I look at what you guys do out here from a mastery point of view from the perspective of a former Monday qualifier on the Champions Tour that never made it. So I’m looking at the process.

So where were you when you came out of school at Alabama relative to where you are now?

I had no status. I just had to go through the Web.com Q-School.

No, I mean in terms of your skill set?

Skill set? 

Yeah, I mean that was pretty brave to leave after your sophomore year.

Yeah, I obviously felt like I was ready and I felt like I was good enough. It was just the experience and just putting in the reps against the best competition, I think, was the part I was lacking. I just felt like I was ready and I felt like I could contend if I played well. That’s why I left early.

I think I’ve gotten obviously better since then. I think I’ve gotten just a little more mature and my mental game is better on the course.

So can you talk about how that happened?

Well, I just think learning. Every week you play you learn something, or you should I feel like. I just had some experiences where I got in contention and just didn’t win. I learned why and I think I just maybe got a little impatient and I realized one bogey isn’t going to hurt you. It’s a long day on Sunday and just learned to stay a lot more patient just because I know that golf tournaments are long and a lot of things can happen. And I just tried to enjoy it more than anything.

You got in this week on a sponsor’s exemption. Why didn’t you get in on your top-10 from last week?

Because it’s just a full field and it’s one of the few…

Where top-10s don’t work, eh?

Yeah.

So how long have you been working with your coach (a young man who was helping him with video and TrackMan data throughout his range session)?

Well, I work with my dad.

So who was he?

It’s Matt Killen. He’s been a good buddy of ours for a long time. He teaches J.B. Holmes. He helps me a lot with my putting. And I’ve used TrackMan or I’ve gone to see him in Bowling Green just because he’s been there and he’s on the way from Alabama to home. He’s been a good close friend of my parents and I for a long time. He’s helped me with my putting since my freshman year in college. He’s seen me play a million rounds of golf, playing with J.B and Kenny (Perry). He’s such a golf geek, he loves having all of that data.

And I was going to say, and the good think is that he knows how to run the TrackMan, right? (Laughs) So is that TrackMan you were using today the tournaments or is that yours?

That’s his. Mine’s in my locker.

So you travel with that obviously.

I do, yeah. I want to know how far I’m hitting it in different weeks and it’s going to go a little farther maybe this week when it gets warm out as opposed to in the morning when it’s a little colder. So that’s why I have it.

So I was watching you do a lot of work on your swing and it seemed like — so how much of what you’re doing now is the natural talent that you showed up with and how much is the refinement of the swing.

I’m extremely — I’m not technical at all. I’m very — I try to keep it simple and just more feel. I try to see the shot and if I’m trying to hit it a cut, I swing left. And if I’m trying to hit a draw, I swing right. Just more so trying to hit my yardages and keep it on the right side of the hole more than anything.

I just try not to get too involved with everything on the technical side. I just think that gets me personally in trouble.

You’ve got everybody around here with their jaws dropped. Rich (Lerner) came by and Frank (Nobilo) came by and they just stood here and watched those drives…

I appreciate it, thank you very much.

Well, so when you’re playing, you’re not thinking about your swing. You’re anchored to the target, yes?

Yeah, then. But I think everybody has at least one or two thoughts; it changes from week to week, month to month, or day to day, sometimes if you’re not playing well. But it just kind of depends on what my habits are at the time and if I’m playing well, I’m not really thinking about very much at all except for that (yardage) number I’m hitting and the shot I’m trying to hit.

Do they tend to be backswing thoughts or downswing thoughts?

Umm, it really depends. It’s probably more club face on the way back, I’ll get it shut sometimes. So I’m trying to keep it open, just try to keep my transition a little bit smoother at the top. Sometimes it gets quick.

It’s great to see that kind of freedom when you’ve got these other guys; they’ve got their aiming sticks down and they’re going through this and that and the other thing.

I appreciate it.

Pretty amazing. Last week was really great. My heart sank when that 2-iron went in the bunker.

Yeah, it more sank for me on that (shot in the) water. It was a good week still.

Was it because your adrenaline was so high?

Yeah. That was just an instance where I learned and pulled it a little bit. But I didn’t think I was going to hit a 2-iron 275. Otherwise I would have hit a 4-iron. And it’s something I know now that when I’m in contention, the ball’s going to go a little farther. You know, that’s what’s a part of it. So next time I’ll know.

So you don’t have a 3-iron in your bag?

I don’t. My 4-iron’s bent strong because I have four wedges and then a 2-iron and hybrid I interchange weeks. But I usually use the 2-iron.

With your distance, you need a lot of wedges.

Yeah. Exactly. I just think that wedges are more scoring clubs as opposed to a 3- or 4-iron. So that’s why I have my 4-iron bent between the two. And then the wedges are what I make money with.

So for all of the amateurs that read my blog, what would you tell them to focus on in terms of their natural athletic skill and taking lessons from club pros?

Well, it doesn’t matter who you are or your skill level. I mean, it just — wedge game and short game. It’s just so important. I think that’s the biggest difference between out here and the Web.com, is chipping it to two feet and chipping it to five or six feet. You’re going to make all your two-footers. You’re going to miss one or two six-footers a tournament or something like that and over the course of four days that could be one shot or four or five shots [behind the leader]. And that’s the difference between a Tour card or not. I just think getting that honed in is so important.

Well, that’s what kept me out on the Champions Tour for nine years trying. Because I had that part…

Yeah, exactly. That’s a good part to have.

...I was just waiting for my swing to catch up (Laughing). And I was just way too mechanical.

So, thanks very much.

Absolutely.

Good luck. I’m watching you very carefully.

Thank you.

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