The RL Q&A: Justin Thomas

The PGA’s rising star on his first year on the tour, his golf pro father, and his goal to end America’s losing streak at the Ryder Cup

Justin Thomas comes by his golfing ability naturally. His grandfather was a professional who played in the U.S. Open and the U.S. Senior Open, and his father has been the head pro at the Harmony Landing Country Club for two decades and counting. At the tender age of 2, Thomas started hitting balls with his dad. Now nearly 23, he’s hitting them quite a bit farther. (Despite weighing just 145 pounds, he ranks 21st in the PGA for driving distance.) He had a standout amateur career, including a stellar turn at the University of Alabama, when he rivaled some guy named Jordan Spieth for the unofficial title of best college golfer in the country. (In 2012, Thomas took home the official honors, earning the Haskins Award for NCAA player of the year.)

Last season was his first on the PGA Tour, and he settled in almost immediately. He won his first tournament this past November, beating Adam Scott by one stroke at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. And at press time, he was ranked sixth in the 2016 FedExCup. We asked the up-and-comer about the year he’s had and his goals for the season ahead. (Hint: They include a certain biannual international cup.)

What did you learn during your first year on tour?
I would say patience. It’s tough to win on tour. I feel like I have the game to win a lot in my career, but I also understand that it’s a tough game, and the winning percentage isn’t always in your favor.

And how are you feeling heading into this year’s majors?
I’m playing well, and I’ve prepared correctly, so I’m very excited for the Masters. I’ve been getting my body fresh and getting my mind fresh so that when I go into those weeks, I’m prepared.

Your dad is a PGA Master Professional and has been head pro at Harmony Landing [in Goshen, Kentucky] for decades. What’s the most valuable thing he’s taught you?
I would say just to enjoy the game. He’s been such a help to me his entire career, being my coach not just in golf, but in life. Anything I need, I can come to him.

That reminds us: The last day of the U.S. Open is Father’s Day. Can you think of a better way to spend time with your dad?
Yeah, to have my dad at the U.S. Open with me this year would be the coolest thing in the world. To be able to get that trophy and share that moment with him, obviously that’s something I’ll be working toward. It would be awesome for both of us, and I hope I can make it happen.
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I feel like I have the game to win a lot in my career, but I also understand that the winning percentage isn’t always in your favor.

You hired veteran caddie Jimmy Johnson last year. How’s that been so far?
Jimmy has had a lot of impact on me. He’s been a great caddie; he just keeps me calm. He knows what to say. There aren’t many situations he hasn’t been in before.

You’ve been pretty vocal about your goal of making the Ryder Cup team. Why is it so important to you?
I’m really excited. I like the opportunity to be able to represent your country—to play not for yourself, not for your team, but for the United States as a whole. I think I played on four [national] teams in the US as an amateur, and it is just unforgettable: the memories, and the bond that you have with your teammates, and the little brotherhood that you have. I’m really hoping to get things turned around with the US. [Ed. note: The US has lost the last three Ryder Cups, and six of the last seven.] But I’ve got a lot of work to make the team first.

Have you talked to Davis [Love III, the captain of this year’s team] about strategy? Any advice from him?
I haven’t really talked to Davis that much about the Ryder Cup—he’s got his stuff going on, and it’s not really my place to ask him. I just need to worry about what I’m doing, and earn my way onto that team.
  • All photographs courtesy of Ralph Lauren Corporation