Justin Thomas explains the wake-up call he got his rookie season

You certainly wouldn’t know it now, but only five years ago, Justin Thomas was a PGA Tour rookie with an uncertain future on the PGA Tour, especially given his inauspicious debut. Thomas missed his first two cuts at the Frys.com Open and the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Since then, though, Thomas has made an incredible career for himself: he’s won a major, played on Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, won a FedEx Cup, was awarded Player of the Year, and oh yeah — he also made it to No. 1 in the world.

In this week’s episode of Subpar, Thomas explains to hosts Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz that he received a stern wake-up call from an unlikely source early on in his rookie season that really resonated with him, and ultimately fueled his eventual ascent to the top of the game.

“I remember it clear as day,” Thomas said. “It was the Sunday night of what was the McGladrey then, now the RSM [Classic]. I finished dead last — I made the cut. It was the first cut I made of the year. But I finished dead last, 71st. I made, like, 0.8 FedEx Cup points. It rounds up, by the way. I had one [point]. I’m on the board. But that night, just went and had a couple drinks with some guys. I think it was at [St. Simon’s, Ga. restaurant] Bubba Garcia’s, that place there. And Hudson Swafford was there. And I’d known Hud just through golf. We were just kind of sitting there and talking, and I don’t know if it was a little bit of a beverage conversation or if he was just looking out for me, but he just told me, he was like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’

Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas at Big Cedar Lodge.
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“[I said] ‘What are you talking about?’ He was like, ‘What’s going on?’ I’m like, ‘I’m doing good, I’m on the PGA Tour, whatever.’ ‘You don’t have your Tour card.’ ‘Yeah I do.’ ‘No you don’t. You can’t play in what you want. You do not have your Tour card until you earn it. You can’t come in here like, celebrating and enjoying this time. Every event is huge.'”

Thomas went on to explain that Swafford’s tough love was about a shift in perspective.

“It’s just important to not get caught up in the moment of ‘Oh, I’m on the PGA Tour at such a young age, this is so awesome,'” Thomas said. “[Swafford’s] like, you don’t have your PGA Tour card until you go earn it that first year, and then you choose what you play in and you’re picking your schedule. That’s when you have your Tour card.

“For some reason I don’t know if it was just the right amount of beers I had, but it kind of resonated,” Thomas continued. “And I finished [T4] my next event in Jackson, Miss., and then I think like [T23] in Mexico and then started off the following year better.”

Thomas is currently ranked third in the world, behind Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. For more from Thomas, including Thomas’ relationship with Tiger and his thoughts on Bryson DeChambeau’s body transformation, check out the full interview below.


Golf.com Editor

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.