Golf

Justin Thomas’s 3-Hour Talk With Jack Nicklaus Transformed His Career

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth’s friendly rivalry dates back to their teen years on the junior circuit. As Spieth showed signs that he was a prodigy, however, he leapfrogged his friend and left Thomas behind in the early part of their careers. But things changed when Thomas talked with golf legend Jack Nicklaus. This might explain his recent success as Spieth fell to the wayside. 

A rivalry is born

When Thomas and Spieth first competed against one another, Spieth wiped the floor with him. Just 13 at the time, the two played one round near Dallas, which helped solidify their friendship and rivalry for years to come. However, as they got a little older, Spieth’s success began to wear on Thomas, who was jealous that he couldn’t do the same. 

By the time that college came around, the friendly rivalry got even bigger. Thomas started at Alabama, while Spieth decided to become a Longhorn in their home state, Texas. As fate would have it, those two schools met in the 2012 NCAA Championship, thanks mainly to the duo’s skills. Despite some late struggles by Spieth, the rivalry set the stage for something that would last for many years. 

This college rivalry, which ended when Spieth went pro after a year, helped shape both golfers for years to come. Thomas spoke on this in 2015. 

“The competition in college is so good,” Thomas told CBS Golf. “There’s just no fear. Particularly now, guys are seeing players like Jordan [Spieth] and myself playing well who are close to their age, and they are like, why can’t I do that?”

Justin Thomas talks with Jack Nicklaus

Golfers Justin Thomas and Jack Nicklaus
Justin Thomas talks to Jack Nicklaus | David Cannon/Getty Images

Spieth and Thomas were part of a stacked high-school class that included 12 future PGA players. The same age, from the same area, and golfing in the same competitions, the two became equal parts kindred spirit and rivals, reports Golfweek. If that was the case, however, Spieth quickly went ahead. He won his first major when he was not yet 20 years old, while Thomas struggled to keep up. 

This drove Thomas to get better at his game. Rather than mope about his friend’s success, he knew that the only way to make himself feel better was to rise through the ranks and beat him that way. He began to work extra hard, but with Spieth holding a massive lead in nearly every category, Thomas started to get demoralized. 

A conversation with golf legend Jack Nicklaus changed everything. However, the rivalry is closer than ever. 

Learning from the best

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As one of the brightest young golfers, Thomas had a lot of pressure for a player in his early 20s. One perk of playing golf professionally, however, is access to mentors who most could never dream of. Thomas took Nicklaus up on an offer to speak about his struggles and desires. The results may have changed his career forever. 

Thomas spoke about this talk in 2017. “I had the same game plan during a tournament when I was playing bad as when I was playing good: being just as aggressive, hitting at every pin,” Thomas told the New York Times. “When you’re hitting it bad, you can’t do that. When I’m playing bad, I need to just hit the green. I remember that talk a lot.”

Now, Thomas is playing some of his career’s best golf while Spieth is in a dry spell. With so much pressure from an early age, Thomas was candid about his flaws and spoke to those he thought could help. His story is still being written, but with some of the biggest names in the sport by his side, maybe Thomas’s best is yet to come.