Genesis Invitational

Riviera Country Club

rookie moves

Justin Thomas needles new pro Nick Dunlap while sharing friendly advice ahead of Pebble debut

January 30, 2024

Orlando Ramirez

PEBBLE BEACH — Nick Dunlap makes his professional debut at this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and who better than fellow University of Alabama product Justin Thomas to dispense a little advice to the 20-year-old who, as an amateur, stunned the golf world with his victory two weeks ago at the American Express.

And who better than Thomas to give the kid some good old-fashioned rookie hazing.

Thomas, playing in the Pro-Am for the first time since 2014 now that it has been elevated to a $20-million signature event, happened to be dining Monday night in the same restaurant as Dunlap, whose life has been a whirlwind since his victory in Palm Springs.

“He [Dunlap] was like, ‘Man, I'm so tired,’” Thomas said Tuesday at Pebble Beach Golf Links. “I was like, ‘Dude, I don't really care, you should be sleeping right now getting ready to go to class tomorrow morning, and I'm pretty sure all of your teammates would happily switch with you, so be careful who you say that to.’ I was needling him, giving him a hard time.”

But Dunlap, who meets with the media Wednesday, isn’t going to have the kind of hard time that most PGA Tour rookies—including Thomas a decade ago—have to face. Not even close. Breaking through as the first amateur to win a tour event since Phil Mickelson in 1991 comes with perks not even Mickelson enjoyed. To wit, Dunlap’s inclusion in this elite no-cut event.

“Nick is very fortunate where his first year on tour is monumentally different than I think everybody's first year on tour out right now,” noted Thomas, who played in the final group with Dunlap in Palm Springs.

That said, it doesn’t change the fact that Dunlap has adjustments to make and faces the same learning curve as other newcomers. Thomas recognizes that.

“I talked to him a little bit last week,” said the two-time major winner, “just remember who he is and stay true to that. I think it's very easy for any rookie, doesn't matter if they're 20, 30 or 40, when you have access to the equipment trucks, when you have access to all these coaches, trainers, caddies, like whatever it is, it's easy to want to tinker and want to change.

“Everybody's different in that regard, but I just think it's important that whatever he's always done, to continue to do that because I think it's easy to get a little bit taken over by the opportunity. Like you have all this access and why wouldn't I kind of change and try some stuff, when in reality that's probably not for the best.”

Thomas, 30, then shared how his situation in 2014, his first full season, was vastly different and some advice that has stayed with him, courtesy of Hudson Swafford.

“I'll never forget it and I've told this to a lot of rookies on tour,” Thomas began. “It was actually from Hudson Swafford, it was at in Sea Island, it was 2014, it was like my third or fourth tournament in whatever, my rookie season and I had gone missed cut, missed cut, MDF [made cut, did not finish], and I had one whole FedEx Cup point through three events.

“It was Saturday night and like we were just at a bar there. I wasn't playing on Sunday, and I think he had missed the cut. We were kind of having some drinks, a group of us, and he was like, ‘I don't really know what you're celebrating for. You think you have your tour card; you don't.’

“‘Rookies do not have a tour card,’” Thomas continued in relaying Swafford’s advice. “‘You do, but you don't have the ability to choose where you're playing, you're not in all the tournaments. Everybody comes out here their first year, and I think they are so excited to finally have a PGA Tour card and they feel like they're on top of the world when in reality you haven't earned that until you have it after that first year.’

“I don't know why that just resonated with me that I pretty much needed to start working harder and go out and earn it,” Thomas added. “I can always thank Hud for that.”

Thomas is a former world No. 1 and 15-time tour winner, including two PGA Championship titles, in 2017 and ’22, the latter being his last win to date.