Golf Runs in the Family: The Thomases, Revisited
By Brendon Elliott, PGA
Justin Thomas reacts to his winning putt with his father Mike Thomas, during the final round of the 2022 PGA Championship. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Entering the final round 7-shots back, the likelihood of Justin Thomas beating the odds and winning a second PGA Championship seemed quite unlikely. With Southern Hills as the backdrop for the 104th PGA Championship, and a wild week of weather, that saw a 50 degree-plus temperature swing, Justin Thomas accomplished the improbable and won his second Wanamaker Trophy. His father and PGA Coach, Mike Thomas, was there every step of the way.
Back in March, I had the pleasure of catching up with Mike Thomas, father of the then No. 8 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, Justin Thomas. With his win today, Justin jumped to No. 5.
Mike Thomas, a second-generation PGA Member, has been a PGA Professional for 37 years. Paul Thomas, Mike’s father and Justin’s grandfather, was also a great player. In his prime, Paul played in the 1962 U.S. Open and finished 15th at the 1983 U.S. Senior Open.
“My dad was a club pro as well, so golf is something I have always been around. Growing up, I would play some with my parents, club members and my brothers” Mike said.
Justin was born on April 29th, 1993, in Louisville, Kentucky. When Justin was born, Mike was the Head Golf Professional at the Harmony Landing Country Club in Goshen, Kentucky. Prior to that, he was the Head Golf Professional in Pittsburgh at Cherrington CC.
I asked Mike how young was Justin when he first started showing an interest in the game?
“I was playing a lot of Section events, and my time to practice or play was in the evenings, like 6 p.m. and on. My wife would bring Justin out to ride around while I practiced. At about 18 months, he wanted to try to make some swings. Shortly after that, I got him a little club to whack the ball around while I was playing. From the time he was two, he would come out and hit balls every day, spending longer amounts of time at the club as time went by. I would be busy with work but would see him and my wife out there hitting balls, and going out to play a few holes”
Mike definitely felt that Justin naturally gravitated to the game because of his working in the business.
“There is no doubt that his hanging out at the course every day, with other kids, at a very young age, got him interested in the game. We were very fortunate at Harmony Landing that the members fully supported him being at the club as much as he was. They really made it easy for me to have Justin at the club daily. With all the kids they allowed to be at the club, with no restrictions, it was an easy place for young kids to get hooked on golf.”
Like all dads that play the game, Mike knew that golf could teach Justin important life lessons. However, with him being a PGA Professional, and working in the business, and also playing competitively in Section events, Mike knew that Justin would be watching him from that standpoint as well.
“I played competitively for a long time in Section events. I was a fair player, and loved the competition, and I think that rubbed off on Justin. Through playing, I knew firsthand about managing emotions, course management, etc. and how to learn from my mistakes on the course, all of which I was able to pass on to Justin. Patience was a big thing I always preached to him, along with short game. Short game practice was my favorite part of the game, so he learned the importance of those shots.”
Into Justin’s teenage years, when he really started competing, Mike looked to instill in him many of the same things he does with the students he teaches.
“Aside from fundamentals, which we always kept in check, and still do today, we spent most of our time, as I do with all my young students, on things like, patience during a round…knowing your own golf swing, so you can adjust on the fly, and so you can work on the right things in practice…and we also focus on finding “smarter” ways to practice…not just hitting balls with no purpose. I always preach having fun while playing too…it’s a game, so it’s not supposed to always be seen as work!”
I asked Mike to share some examples of practice games and/or routines that he and Justin have done over the years together…
“When Justin was young, we would always have chipping and putting contests, and they usually involved cash on the line!” Mike said as he laughed. “We would playfully torment each other during these contests, they were pretty competitive, but a ton of fun. We would also play a game kind of like horse, but on full swings…we would call shots out, like a high or low shot, or a fade or draw. Lots of goofy stuff with the contests. This kept things fun but also instilled the competitiveness we see in him today. We still have some short game contests today…but I’m not much competition now…no more betting for money with him!”
In wrapping up our chat, I asked Mike this…What are your thoughts when I say, "Golf might be the ultimate family sport"?
“No doubt! Golf is something a family like ours did for many years together. My wife would often play with us, and after days of 10 hours plus working, it was a good way for us all to spend time together…something we could all do together. Outside of our own family, you can continue to play with your parents, or your children, for a long time…something a lot of other activities don’t offer. Being together, and outside, as a family…you can’t beat it!”