Justin Thomas knew the news probably wasn’t good. After all, doctors don’t usually text after office hours and ask you to please call them that night unless something is wrong.
He’d gone to the dermatologist to have a small mole on the back of his left calf checked out. Thomas knew that part of his leg gets “hammered pretty hard” by the sun when he’s wearing shorts on the practice range, and the color of the spot worried him.
The dermatologist was concerned, too. So, he removed the mole and sent it to the lab for tests. When Thomas called the doctor that night, he told him the mole was in the “early stages of melanoma,” and he would need further surgery.
Melanoma is the most dangerous and rarest form of skin cancer, although it is highly curable when caught and removed early as Thomas’ was. Still, it was an unnerving diagnosis to get, particularly for someone as young as the 26-year-old former FedExCup champion.
“I didn't know very much about melanoma, but I know enough to know that that word melanoma isn't a good thing,” Thomas says. “So, I was kind of blown away.
“But what kind of put things in perspective for me is he was like, you know, you were very lucky to find this when you did and you were probably about two years away from potentially being, like, a patient in the hospital if you didn't catch this.
“That's when I was like, holy crap, this is a serious thing. And I don't know if he was saying that to scare me or if that could have possibly been the truth. But after posting what I did and putting it out there and having a lot of people reach out to me, it sounds like I am very fortunate to catch it when I did.”
I recently had a scare at the dermatologist where a very small mole on my left leg was caught in the early stages of melanoma. Luckily, we found it at a time where there should be no problems going forward. That… https://t.co/3xjJRLNSnw— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) September 12, 2019
Thomas, who had moles on his back, left arm and foot removed when he was a teenager, had the surgery on Sept. 9 after he returned from vacation. He said it only lasted about 15 minutes, and the worst part probably was the multiple shots of Novocain he had to get to numb his leg.
“I was on my phone, just laid on my stomach, I was awake, I was talking the whole time,” Thomas says. “… It's like you can feel someone kind of touching you and, and the pressure, but there's zero pain, and you can't feel anything.”
Thomas later posted a gnarly picture of the incision, which is several inches long, and the stitches on Twitter and Instagram with a plea for people to get checked out. Doctors had to go a centimeter around the mole and down to the fat portion his leg to make sure all the margins were clear, he says.
“So that was going to be a couple inches deep,” Thomas explains. “It was a pretty solid chunk out of my leg.”
Thomas was to have the stitches removed on Monday, a few hours before he headed to California to play in the Safeway Open, where he has posted top-10s in his last two starts. But his preparation for the tournament – where he will play with Dallas Cowboy great Tony Romo in the pro-am -- was limited because doctors didn’t want him to stretch the stitches or worse yet, rip them out.
“It really was a lot of time on the couch and a lot of time just kind of doing nothing,” Thomas says. “It was honestly a bummer because I had two weeks really to get ready for my tournament, but also work out, train and get my body in the shape I wanted to get in. But I couldn't really do anything.”
Thomas says he has always used sunscreen – often multiple times a day because he burns easily – and is particularly vigilant when he’s out on the water or at the beach.
“I'm sure there's like the perfect sunscreen or the perfect ways to apply it and how often, and I’m sure I didn’t do that,” he says. “But I mean I would put sunscreen on basically every single day that I would go out in the sun.”
At the same time, Thomas admits he might not have always thought about the calves of his legs which are exposed to the sun’s rays when he’s wearing shorts to play or practice. “So definitely it was another reminder for me to put more sunscreen on,” he says.
Thomas’ tweet urging junior golfers and other athletes spending time in the sun to monitor their bodies for signs of skin cancer has been picked up by golf and sports outlets, as well as by the Prevention magazine website. He and his agent discussed whether to put the news out on social media and both agreed that he should.
“I didn't want to put it out there because I didn't want people to feel sorry for me or feel like I was doing it for that reason,” Thomas says. “But it was just like, hey, you know, this is especially (for) kids.
“I mean, I'm 26 years old. You wouldn't think that someone my age would have something like this happen to them, who wears sunscreen all the time. So, who else is out there that maybe hasn't gotten checked in a while that should? This is kind of going to be a reminder to them to go do that.”