This is the key to practicing well, according to Justin Thomas and his dad

Justin Thomas practices golf

Make your practice competitive, and it'll be more fun.

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Justin Thomas caught the golf bug early.

“By the age of nine I had been playing golf for seven years, at that point,” he says in the video below.

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Most juniors would be forgiven for losing interest, or burning out, somewhere along the way. But, not so for Thomas. Playing more only fueled him to keep getting better, and push up through the ranks of professional golf that he would one day become a fixture of.

Speaking at this week’s AJGA Justin Thomas Junior Championship, JT and his dad shared the key.

“I see a lot of parents make golf not fun for their parents,” he says. “Kids like to have fun…keep it fun.”

But how did they keep practicing fun, even after so many countless hours? It all comes down to playing games while your practice, JT says. Drills, challenges; something that feels competitive, and that leaves you with a task you’re trying to accomplish — a form of practice called “performance practice.”

One way JT says he does this is by trying to make at least 17 out of 20 putts from between four-to-eight feet, or hitting wedges from 150-to-125 yards inside a certain proximity. It’s difficult — sometimes so difficult that it makes the tournament itself seem easy — but the fun is in the challenge of it.

How to practice like a pro

“I’m trying to have my practice sessions emulate tournament conditions, so I’m trying to make my practice as difficult, and mentally exhausting as possible,” JT says. “I do it to the point that I measure my heart rate when I’m practicing and when I’m playing, and I’m trying to make sure both those numbers are as close to each other as possible.”

It’s a way of making practicing not feel like practicing, and his father Mike Thomas says you’re never too young to start. Mike says whether its JT or one of his junior golfer students, they’ll make sure their fundamentals are in order, but as soon as those feel comfortable, they spent a vast majority of their time on performance practice.

“As soon as we get to that comfort level, we’re into performance practice. Whether it’s a putter, or driver. Can’t miss left, or right, all of it is about to get to your baseline number,” he said. “It make take you 10 balls, or it make take you 100 golf balls, but we want you to feel pressure. We want you to feel some anxiety in your practice.”

The research backs up that practicing like this is a proven way getting better, faster. Avoid the dreaded zombie practice trap, and you’ll come out better the other side.

Watch the full Q&A below:

Luke Kerr-Dineen Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is the Game Improvement Editor at GOLF Magazine and In his role he oversees the brand’s game improvement content spanning instruction, equipment, health and fitness, across all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms.

An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to pursue his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University. His work has also appeared in USA Today, Golf Digest, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.