Elite Prospects

Justin Thomas clarifies father Mike’s role as swing coach at Fortinet

NAPA, Calif. – For Justin Thomas, waiting to find out whether he’d receive a captain’s pick from U.S. skipper Zach Johnson for the Ryder Cup in Rome later this month caused numerous sleepless nights.

“It was brutal,” he said Wednesday during his pre-tournament press conference ahead of the Fortinet Championship. “I told Zach after the fact that I compared it to like if you had an ex-girlfriend that you were trying to find any excuse you could to reach out to them to get in contact, that’s pretty much how I felt like with Zach.”

With his spot secure, Thomas said he has nothing else to prove and he’s ready to get back to work – he hasn’t played since finishing 12th at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Aug. 6 – after a disappointing season by his high standards. Thomas, 30, finished 71st in the FedEx Cup regular season and failed to qualify for the Playoffs for the first time in his career.

As he prepared to make his sixth start at the Fortinet Championship and first since 2019, Thomas discussed some of the changes he’s made to his team – parting ways with putting coach John Graham – and clarified his father, Mike’s role going forward.

“We had gotten to a point where everything was fundamentally or mechanically or on the putting green was as good as it could get. Basically, what I told him was he can’t go out and make the putts for me, I have to figure that out, and that’s something only I can do,” Thomas said of Graham. “It’s something where I grew up just going out and practicing and hitting putts and figuring out how to get it in the hole. I didn’t necessarily care how it looked, all that mattered was getting the ball in the hole as fast as I can, and that’s more what I want to do. I know there’s a lot of really knowledgeable people out there, John included, that down the road if I feel like it gets to a point where I need to see somebody then I can, but the hope is that I don’t need to.”

2023 Fortinet Championship

Justin Thomas plays his shot from the eighth tee during a practice round ahead of the 2023 Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, California. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)

Thomas learned the game from his father, a club pro in Louisville, Kentucky, and while Matt Killen at times has served as a second set of eyes, Mike has been his primary coach. Under his tutelage, Justin won 15 times on the PGA Tour, including two majors and reached world No. 1. His father retired from his club pro position to travel more regularly with his son and pupil but that schedule may be trimmed next season. Mike Thomas disputed a previous report by Golf Channel that his son was going solo for the time being.

“Some things definitely got lost in translation and incorrect, to be perfectly honest,” Justin said.

His goal is to return to working more in the fashion that went swimmingly during his run from 2017 to 2019.

“My dad came out a handful of times a year, more so because he was working,” he said. “But he can come out any and all as he wants as a dad, but there’s just going to be some weeks where if things are good, I don’t necessarily need a coach, and I think that’s more of just where I want things. We can exchange texts, we’ll work, you know, when we’re home and when it’s needed, but when things are great, I don’t need to have somebody there with me hitting balls or putting all the time because then it’s like I’m just going to end up finding something that’s not even there.”

Thomas settled on the changes for good reason.

“I just lost all ownership, all accountability to where when things were going wrong I was looking to (my dad and John Graham) to answer the questions instead of I’m the one that needs to figure it out at some point,” he explained.

He’s also trying to channel his swing from 2017-19 too, which he called his best ball-striking years, when he had more width and a more repeatable action.

“I just got away from some of that,” he said. “I felt like the club was getting too steep going back and then I had to reroute it going down.”

After not touching a club for two weeks after the Wyndham, Thomas is raring to go and hopes to “get some competition under my belt” before going to Italy for the Ryder Cup, which begins Sept. 29. He’s confident he’s not that far away from playing his brand of winning golf again.

“I have a lot of belief in myself that I’m not as far off as I think,” he said. “All it takes is one week, one stretch, one whatever you want to call it that could just completely flip everything and nobody even talks or remembers it anymore.”

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