After near-collapse, Justin Thomas reveals how his dad’s advice helped him win

January 9, 2020
Justin Thomas was in a tight spot after making bogey at No. 18 in regulation.

Justin Thomas has never quite had a win like last week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

“It was a bizarre ending, I think, to say the least,” he said on Wednesday at the Sony Open, three days removed from the event’s dramatic conclusion. “It was probably fun to watch on TV, but not so fun to deal with at times.”

After a bogey at 16 and a par save at 17, Thomas found himself clinging to a one-stroke lead on the 18th tee at Kapalua’s Plantation Course. He snap-hooked his tee shot to a tricky lie, then hit a fairway wood out of play to the left — a particularly costly blunder given he had the entire world open to the right. Thomas went on to make bogey and had to sweat out a short missed birdie putt from Xander Schauffele, which allowed him to sneak into a three-way playoff.

“I mean, my mind frame was that I was given a second chance,” Thomas said, reflecting on the moment. But he said a comment from his father helped re-turn the momentum.

“I said to my dad as I was walking, he just asked, ‘Do you need anything?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take a mulligan.’ He goes, ‘You were just given one.’ I think when he said that it did sink in. Yeah, I was. I was very, very lucky to be in that playoff or for Xander to have the wind pick up on his putt and three-putt to give Patrick and myself a chance. So it was a mulligan in itself, so I tried to telling myself that.”

One thing that separates top pros from mere talented golfers is the ability to bounce back after a poor shot. Think about the mentality of Brooks Koepka, who plays with a short memory, or Tiger Woods, who redoubles his focus after a poor shot. Thomas pointed out that different approaches work for different players, and that “a good attitude” is subjective.

“It’s not necessarily if you don’t swear and you’re just happy-go-lucky all the time. My attitude is good because I’m a fierce competitor and I have all the confidence in the world that I can beat everybody else. That’s my attitude. If I make a bogey I’m not going to be smiling walking off the hole and high-fiving people, but I’m going to be like, ‘Okay, we need to make some birdies to get back in it.’”

For Thomas, the comment from his father reminded him to reset his plan of attack for the playoff, which would be contested on the same 18th hole he’d just made a mess of.

“I just felt like if I just kept making birdie — I think the 18th hole is a weird hole as a playoff, especially when you’re trying to beat daylight. It’s a very long hole and hard to walk. You’re just going to make a lot of 4s,” Thomas said. “I just kept trying to tell myself, Don’t be a hero and make a 3. If you keep making 4s, I think I’ll eventually outlast somebody.”

Thomas, in fact, outlasted two somebodies, making a 4 and then a 5 and then a 4, taking out Schauffele on the first playoff hole and Reed on the third. That’s a pretty strong bounceback, and one Thomas said he’ll draw from in the future.

“It is great. I feel like I’m going to be able to build a lot on that last week and a lot of learning experiences and feel like I can really take a lot from it,” he said. “In all reality, I should have lost the tournament.”