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Justin Thomas takes ownership of his game ahead of crucial fall schedule

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Justin Thomas takes ownership of his game ahead of crucial fall schedule

Thomas parted ways with his putting coach John Graham and scaled back the involvement of his swing coach and father Mike Thomas during his two-month break

    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    NAPA, Calif. – The Wyndham Championship was a revelatory week for Justin Thomas.

    It’s no secret how it ended. His chip shot for birdie on the 72nd hole that would have clinched his spot in the FedExCup Playoffs ricocheted off the flagstick and ended his Regular Season. But Thomas made a realization.

    Justin Thomas' heartbreaking chip shot at Wyndham

    He needed to take full responsibility for his game. The week marked his best performance in months, and one thing was different – he was by himself.

    His father and coach, Mike Thomas, wasn’t there. Neither was his putting coach, John Graham. The week was a throwback to his early days as a pro, working on the range and problem-solving issues individually. He liked it.

    “I am very lucky to have a team that's very, very involved,” Thomas said Wednesday at Silverado Resort in Napa, California. “But I just think for me personally, I had them -- they were there too often to where I became dependent on them and then I just lost all ownership, all accountability to where when things were going wrong, I was looking to them to answer the questions instead of I'm the one that needs to figure it out at some point.”

    In the two months since the Wyndham Championship, Thomas has scaled back how often his father, Mike, is involved. His father is still his swing coach, but Mike won’t travel to every tournament or watch every range session. It’s a similar arrangement to when Thomas was playing some of his best golf in 2017-18 while his father was still balancing his job as a PGA professional.

    “He can come out any and all as he wants as a dad,” Thomas said, “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.”

    He also parted ways with Graham, his putting coach. Thomas felt the duo had maximized all the fundamentals and mechanics of his putting stroke, yet he still ranked 137th in Strokes Gained: Putting. In keeping with his desire to own every part of his game, he thought back to some of his best putting days as a junior. At that time, it wasn’t about how his putting stroke looked or where his feet were positioned, only about getting it in the hole as quickly as possible.

    “Basically, what I told [John] 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.

    The decisions have been freeing for Thomas, who has spent the last month working to rekindle the swing that helped him win his first PGA Championship in 2017 and reach world No. 1 less than 12 months later.

    He poured over old videos of his swing from those years and compared it to his swing entering the 2022-23 season and where he was after the Wyndham Championship. He noticed his swing had gotten longer over time, which introduced inconsistency. He ended up overdoing and overexaggerating various changes, leading to less width in his backswing and the club becoming too steep at the top. The extended break between tournaments was filled with fixing those issues.

    “It was just a lot of balls, a lot of repetition to try to kind of get it back in those slots,” he said.

    The 2022-23 season has felt like a constant state of firsts. And none that Thomas wanted. It was the first time he missed the Playoffs and his first winless Regular Season since 2015. He missed the cut in multiple majors for the first time and it was the only year relying on a captain’s pick to make a U.S. National Team. Each unsavory mile marker compounding on the next.

    But this week’s Fortinet Championship is a first Thomas is looking forward to – his first chance to put the changes into tournament play. He has his eye on finishing the fall between No. 51-60 on the FedExCup, which would earn him spots in two Signature Events for 2024 – the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The Genesis Invitational.

    He is also fine-tuning his swing before the Ryder Cup, though he doesn’t feel any pressure to play well and justify his selection as a captain’s pick. In truth, all that pressure disappeared when captain Zach Johnson called and told him he was on the team. Now he can play free.

    “It's just me being me again and trying to just dig it out of the dirt,” he said.

    'It was a lot of emotions' Justin Thomas on being selected to play in Ryder Cup

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