‘You’re going to laugh at me’: How a 15-year-old helped Justin Thomas’ putting

Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas lines up a putt on Thursday on the 13th hole at Liberty National.

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The 7-footer on the 1st and the 6-footer on the 2nd, Justin Thomas thought, would be the test. The putts at Liberty National were straight, but uphill. “Which is sometimes the hardest to make because, if you start them offline, they’re going to miss,” he said. “Especially with the wind, I’m like these are putts that are inside the hole if I can hit them with some pace. The harder you hit it, sometimes the harder it is to keep online.”

Thomas “gutted” both.

“Just any time I’m changing my speed out there like that with putting and making putts, I’m usually feeling pretty good,” he said.    

No doubt a 15-year-old is too upon hearing this. 

This season has been, at least statistically, a struggle on the greens for Thomas, who despite being ranked fifth in the world, is a ghastly 121 spots lower than that on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting. It isn’t for lack of trying. Toward the end of last year, Thomas began working with putting coach John Graham. He confirmed Thursday, too, that he’s practiced so much that he’s hurt himself. At the U.S. Open, Thomas even parked his long-time putter.   

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Enter our teenager here. The ScottyCameron X5 Flow Neck Prototype putter returned this week, Thomas shot an eight-under 63 to share the first-round lead at the Northern Trust, and he finished eighth in SG: Putting. 

What happened, JT?

“You’re going to laugh at me,” Thomas said after his round. “I had my AJG event last week in Louisville, went right from Memphis, went there Sunday night, spent Monday, went out and kind of saw some of the kids playing their practice rounds, and Tuesday was the Junior Am. But my dad had a couple students, and I went out to go — there’s a girl Abigail that he teaches that I went out to go see because I played a couple rounds with her. She’s a really good player, and she was playing with, I think, another two girls, a girl that my dad teaches and then a boy.

“He was using the putter, pretty much my putter that Scotty Cameron, the line that we kind of came out with, and he was like, you know, when are you going to start using — when are you going to use it again? Are you still using the long neck? I was like, yeah, I am, and I was kind of explaining it, and he’s just like, well, when are you going to start using it again? And I found myself defending myself to this 15-year-old.”

Thomas laughed. Then continued. 

“I was like why am I not using this thing? I’ve had a lot of success. It’s not like I’m making a lot of putts with what I have. If you’re putting well, any of us can go out and putt with anything. I don’t know, it kind of hit me. I’m like, the kid’s got a point. They designed a putter after it, maybe I should bring it out. When I brought it out, it looked good, it felt good. Again, a lot of familiar feelings with it.”

Kid was right. No costly three-putts. Ten one-putts. A birdie putt of 37 feet on 14. Three birdies to close the round. Easy enough. 

Which is actually part of a bigger thought Thomas and Graham have had. 

“Yeah, definitely trying to over-perfect a stroke and just be perfect in putting,” Thomas said. “I think John and I, we’ve had a couple great talks the last couple weeks. … I think we do probably a lot more talking than we do putting sometimes, just to kind of talk through things because, as kind of nerdy he is, sometimes I’ll say something that he picks up on.

“Just in Memphis, we were like, you know, why am I changing so much? We want it to perform so well, and he might be even harder on himself than I am on my myself. 

“So we just tried to simplify things.”

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Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor