Pro golfer Justin Thomas has already been ranked No. 1 in the world and nabbed two PGA Championships over the span of his career, but he’s got his sights set on dominating the sport for a few more decades. Here’s how he plans to stay on top. — As told to Charles Thorp
Be More Sport Specific
I played all sports growing up, but to be honest golf was the only one I was ever any good at. I grew up on courses watching my father playing, and learned I had a pretty good swing when I won my first international tournament when I was only 8 years old. I’ve never been that big physically, and that’s fine for this sport. There’s a very particular skill set you need to succeed and it doesn’t involve having huge muscles. I don’t need to be able to deadlift a certain amount to be able to drive a ball 400 yards. So the workouts I do are designed specifically to give me the power and flexibility to bring the best of my natural abilities out.
I’ve worked with my trainer Kolby Tullier for six years and he’s the absolute best. I enjoy our sessions together not just because of the expertise he brings, but he also has an incredible attitude and energy. I haven’t come across anyone else out in the industry that even comes close to him. I can text him saying I feel like getting a workout in at 9p.m. on a Sunday evening or 6a.m. on a Monday morning, and he’s all-in no matter what. Not only is he working to make me better, but every day he’s trying to get better himself. Because of that, he’s training side by side with me every day.
The workouts have a lot of rotary and rotation exercises to help me with the movements I’ll be utilizing on the golf course. I also try to work on my balance as much as possible, as it’s a huge part of getting the swing right. For example, I’ll do lunges with resistance bands around my legs so I can work on my balance, core, hips, and glutes. If I do a curl or an overhead press I’ll do it on one leg. Or, if I’m going to do a dumbbell row, I’m going to do it with one leg back because it engages the core and again promotes that balance. I’ll never do those exercises the traditional way.
Protect Yourself From the Elements
I’ve spent majority of my life outdoors, whether it’s playing golf or just enjoying nature. I didn’t think or worry about skin safety. Like most young people, I thought I was invincible. Back in 2019, during a visit to the dermatologist, I found out I had melanoma and that was a huge wake-up call for me. Sure, we’re told to wear sunscreen, but you need to reapply throughout the day and be vigilant about it. That’s why I decided to launch my own sunscreen brand that’s effective and affordable. It’s called WearSPF because I want people to be aware that skin protection needs to be a part of the daily routine and it’s important to WearSPF. If you see me on the course in real life or on TV, you’ll see that I’m constantly applying sunscreen to keep myself protected.
Play the Long Game
In addition to protecting my skin, I put a lot of focus on injury prevention and proper recovery. I’m always shocked and amazed by the people on the Internet who actually question if golf is a sport. I won’t argue there are less obvious impacts, but it can definitely be hard on your body and requires a lot from you physically. There’s a huge amount of torque and flexion your body has to deal with repeatedly. The twisting and turning that goes on in a golf swing, at 120 miles per hour, is immense.
That said, I’m very lucky I play a sport I can realistically stay competitive at professionally until I’m 50 years old. It’d be silly to put a long career on the line by taking unnecessary risks. The best piece of advice I’ve gotten from another player came from Jim Furyk when I hurt my wrist. He just reached out when he heard, and told me, ‘Nobody’s ever come back too late.’ People have come back too early and paid the price by doing more damage. That’s really stuck with me. I withdrew from a tournament the other week because I tweaked my back and realized I was going to do more harm than good. I have no regrets at all and know it was the right decision.
Teamwork Makes the Swing Work
I was drawn to golf because it was primarily a solo effort, especially in those early days, and my success was my own doing. Competing at the pro level, though, I’ve learned the importance of having the right people around. I hear a lot of stories about other players switching their teams around a lot, especially when they aren’t performing well. I think that’s a mistake, and usually a decision made out of frustration. I’ve seen a lot of value in working with the same specialists for years, like Kolby and Troy. My father has been my coach for my whole career, so that’s been an easy call and a great experience. But the most important part of the equation for a professional is finding the right caddie.
I probably spend more time with my caddie than anyone else in my life. During a tournament week, I’m with them seven days a week, eight hours a day. The caddie is going to see you at your best and at your worst. Jim “Bones” Mackay is my caddie now and he works his tail off. He doesn’t take the trust I put in him lightly. It’s a tough job because while I don’t require him to be perfect with his advice every single time, there’s a level of expectation there. I’ll admit there are days when I handle that disappointment better than others. There are many different ways people work as a caddie, and it’s always about finding the right teammate for you.
On the Road to Recovery
I’ve been with my physio Troy Van Biezen for years. I got connected with him my second year on the PGA Tour, and he’s unbelievable. If there’s ever anything that feels off at the beginning of the week, we’ve gotten it corrected by the end of it. Since he has his hands on my body pretty regularly, he knows if I’m out of alignment or need to work out another part of my body. He makes sure to stay in close contact with Kolby about how I’m training.
I think the hips are the most important joint when it comes to golf. If your hips are tight, then your back is going to hurt, and you’re going to have to compensate in the swing. That can start to have repercussions when it comes to your hamstrings. It’s important to keep the hips loose and mobile, so I’ll keep lacrosse balls in my backpack at all times when I’m traveling so I can do a few exercises. I’ll sit on them or roll my feet on them during a long flight to keep loose. I have a massage gun to use during the day and I’ll put my legs in Normatec boots every night when I’m in a tournament.
My favorite way to decompress after a long day of playing is an ice bath. That’s the best way to recover, and I’ll do one whether I’m at the house or a hotel. During hotel stays, it can be a little difficult to coordinate, because whenever I call to order ice to the room they never bring enough. I’ve gotten in the habit of actually going to the front desk to put in the request so I can tell them to take whatever amount they plan on sending and multiply it by 15.
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