In celebration of American Father’s Day, Global Golf Post Plus has shared a collection of stories on how the bond between fathers and their children is strengthened through the game. Today, Ron Green Jr. caps off the series by writing of the relationship between Justin Thomas and his father, Mike.
Justin Thomas was about 9 years old when his father, Mike, suggested his son take a day off.
Mike Thomas was the head pro at Harmony Landing Golf Club in Goshen, Kentucky, and every day he was at the golf course, his son was there with him.
“Literally, every day,” Mike Thomas remembers.
So he suggested to Justin that he stay home one day, go spend time with his friends. Do something different for a change.
Justin took his father’s advice and stayed home.
For a while.
“About 10 a.m. he shows up at the shop and I said, ‘That didn’t last long.’ He said, ‘I got bored.’ His buddies were playing video games and watching cartoons.”
The son of a lifetime golf professional himself, Mike Thomas understood the tug the game had on his own son. It’s a tie that has bound the Thomas family together over generations and is as strong as ever today, with Justin a fixture near the top of the world rankings and his father there every step of the way.
Theirs is not the traditional father-son relationship. While Justin Thomas followed his father and grandfather into the family business, he’s gone where they never did.
When it became clear to Mike Thomas that his son could be an elite player, he faced his own decisions. How best to teach him? To mentor him? To be a father to him?
“I kind of made the decision I wasn’t going to be his dad, I was going to be his friend,” Mike Thomas says. “I never looked at it as his dad.
“My late dad (golf pro Paul Thomas) was brutal on me and he was brutal on himself so it only made sense he was brutal on his students. He pushed me hard to the point where he was negative about a lot of things.
“I disliked it and it made me say I was never going to do that. I decided I was going to be his friend first, his coach second and his dad when I needed to.”
Justin Thomas was given the freedom to grow up at the golf course where his father works and where they have kept a collection of golf balls marking each one of Justin’s tournament victories, ranging from one-day junior events to the 2017 PGA Championship he won at Quail Hollow Club.
“He was probably 13 or 14 years old. He didn’t hit it far enough to beat me. He hit it good enough. And he beat me before I started getting worse.” – Mike Thomas
Stories have been written about how Mike Thomas allowed his son to develop a love for the game first and only offered lessons when his son asked for help. It helped create a golfer who plays by feel as much or more than by technique. Thomas can hit all the shots but, just as importantly, he knows how to play the game, a gift that has helped separate him.
Mike Thomas was a good enough player to win a handful of PGA section events and qualify for the Club Pro Championship once. His father was the southern Ohio section player of the year so many times his son forgot the number.
In Kentucky, where he is now head pro emeritus because he spends most of his time in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Thomas was the classic club pro. He ran his own golf shop, booked tee times, gave lessons to kids and adults and never lost his love for what he was doing.
When he gets asked – as he often does – when his son beat him for the first time, Mike Thomas can’t remember.
“He was probably 13 or 14 years old,” Mike says. “He didn’t hit it far enough to beat me. He hit it good enough. And he beat me before I started getting worse.”
Like father like son, Justin Thomas doesn’t remember the moment either.
“It’s like something every kid remembers. But for some reason, neither one of us knows when it was, and I know it doesn’t happen anymore, that’s for sure. He doesn’t beat me anymore,” Justin Thomas says.
When Justin asked his dad a few years ago to spend more time with him on tour, Mike Thomas said yes. He’s there every round, a water bottle in his back pocket, a Titleist cap on his head and sunglasses on his face, watching his son from a comfortable distance.
He’s there for the pre-round warm-up and the post-round debrief. When his son needs space, he gives it to him.
Last week, the morning after returning home late Sunday from the Memorial Tournament, Mike Thomas was busy paying bills for his son back in Florida. Thomas has a manager to handle travel and sponsorship deals, but Mike Thomas and his wife, Jani, keep an eye on the finances for their son.
“I owned a golf shop for 26 or 27 years so I told him I’d do that for him,” Mike Thomas says.
With Justin’s 14 PGA Tour victories including the PGA Championship and the Players Championship, a time at No. 1 in the world, a FedEx Cup title and a player of the year award, Mike has seen his 28-year old son accomplish more than most players ever will.
“He’s a lot more talented than I ever was,” Mike Thomas says. “We’re both driven. I was in my work, and he’s driven.
“He’s a little stubborn like I am but most good players are that way. I’m like every other parent. I want him to enjoy what he’s doing and I want him to be safe.
“At every level he’s played, he’s surprised us. I don’t think it surprised him but it surprised me.”
© 2021 Global Golf Post
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