‘I’ll never forget it’: The best advice Justin Thomas ever received

Justin Thomas and Nick Dunlap shake hands at The American Express.

Justin Thomas shared some advice for Nick Dunlap this week.

Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There aren’t many people who have been in Nick Dunlap’s shoes before.

The newly-minted PGA Tour rookie is making his professional debut this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am after his remarkable win two weeks ago at the American Express when he became the first amateur since 1991 to win on Tour. Given that timeframe — and Phil Mickelson‘s new home with LIV Golf — there are exactly zero players left on the PGA Tour who have accomplished what Dunlap did.

With success come benefits, like, say, attending a private dinner with Justin Thomas and several other star players Monday night in Pebble Beach.

“Nick was there and he looked tired,” said Thomas, who like Dunlap attended the University of Alabama. “He was like, ‘Man, I’m so tired.’

“I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t really care, you should be sleeping right now getting ready to go to class tomorrow morning, and I’m pretty sure all of your teammates would happily switch with you, so be careful who you say that to.’ I was needling him, giving him a hard time.”

Thomas was making light of the whirlwind that has been the past week-and-a-half since Dunlap’s final putt fell in Palm Springs. Dunlap was set to play in last week’s Farmers Insurance Open but withdrew to spend time deciding if he wanted to turn pro and take up membership on the PGA Tour.

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Ultimately, he announced Thursday he would be turning pro, throwing him into this week’s stacked field at Pebble Beach.

Thomas, who played with Dunlap Sunday at the American Express before finishing T3, had some simple advice for the 20-year-old.

“I’ve told him this — I talked to him a little bit last week — just remember who he is and stay true to that,” Thomas said. “I think it’s very easy for any rookie, doesn’t matter if they’re 20, 30 or 40, when you have access to the equipment trucks, when you have access to all these coaches, trainers, caddies, like whatever it is, it’s easy to want to tinker and want to change.

“I just think it’s important that whatever he’s always done, to continue to do that because I think it’s easy to get a little bit taken over by the opportunity.”

That led Thomas to harken back on his days as a PGA Tour rookie in the 2014-15 season. Thomas’ first stint on the big Tour was much different. He was only a year older than Dunlap is now, but had a full season grinding on the Korn Ferry Tour to earn his card after two full years at Alabama.

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But Thomas’ PGA Tour career got off to a rocky start. He missed his first two cuts at the Open and the Shriners. At the Sea Island event, he made the cut, but finished 71st.

“I had one whole FedExCup point through three events,” he recalled. (It was actually just .98 FedEx Cup points.)

Frustrated, Thomas went to a bar with some other rookies at Sea Island when they ran into Hudson Swafford, who was in his second year on Tour at that point. That’s when Thomas got what he described as the “best advice” he’s ever received.

“I’ll never forget it,” he said. “We were kind of having some drinks, a group of us, and he was like, ‘I don’t really know what you’re celebrating for, I don’t know like what your — a lot of you rookies are having fun for.’

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“‘You think you have your Tour card?’ He’s like, ‘You don’t. Rookies do not have a Tour card.’ He’s like, ‘You do, but you don’t have the ability to choose where you’re playing, you’re not in all the tournaments.’ He’s like, ‘Everybody comes out here their first year and I think they are so excited to finally have a PGA Tour card and they feel like they’re on top of the world when in reality you haven’t earned that until you have it after that first year.’

“I don’t know why that just resonated with me that I pretty much needed to start working harder and go out and earn it.”

Thomas’s next event two weeks later? He finished T4 at the Sanderson Farms Championship and racked up six more top 10s en route to just barely missing the Tour Championship that year.

Exactly 53 weeks after his reality check from Swafford, Thomas won his first Tour event at the CIMB Classic.

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