Alabama alum Justin Thomas boosts kicker Andy Pappanastos’ mental game

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Alabama alum Justin Thomas boosts kicker Andy Pappanastos’ mental game

PGA Tour

Alabama alum Justin Thomas boosts kicker Andy Pappanastos’ mental game

If Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos ends up kicking the game-winning field goal to beat Georgia in the College Football Playoff national championship game on Monday night in Atlanta, he has Justin Thomas to partly thank.

The two 24-year-olds, one a redshirt senior from Montgomery, Ala., and the other the PGA Tour Player of the Year and former Haskins Award winner while at Alabama, struck up a friendship via phone earlier this year. Thomas, who helped the Tide to the 2013 NCAA Golf Championship, remains a huge fan of Alabama football, and Pappanastos was coming off a rough opening game against Florida State in which he missed two of his five field-goal attempts. (Alabama won the game, 34-7.)

“He reached out to me earlier this year, and we kind of went back and forth some,” Thomas said this week at Kapalua. “… I guess you can say kicking is the most similar scenario of a position that you’re going to get to a golfer. The fact that it’s only him – obviously, he is playing for his team, (but) it’s really only him – it’s his responsibility to make kicks like it is our responsibility to hit shots.”

Thomas closed out five wins, including a major, last season and has climbed to No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking. It’s no wonder Pappanastos wanted to pick Thomas’ brain about the mental aspects of the game. Thomas was more than happy to oblige, and after their first conversation, Pappanastos went on to make six consecutive field goals.

“He’s really been over-the-top helpful,” Pappanastos said earlier this season. “I was talking to him on the phone for 30 minutes and literally just jotting down notes. He just talked about how your mentality has to be on the sidelines. You want to have the opportunity to kick it and I’ve really been able to implement that. And the results have been pretty good so far. I owe him a lot.”

Pappanastos has kept Thomas as a resource all season, though the two didn’t meet in person until the week of the Tide’s Nov. 4 home game against LSU.

“I got to see him in the locker room during practice one day and caught up a little bit,” Thomas said. “Prior to the game saw him on the field and told him good luck. He’s out there doing his thing, just like I am out here doing mine. We are not bothering each other, just sending texts here or there.”

On the season, Pappanastos is 16 for 21 in field goal attempts and perfect in 54 extra point attempts. He hasn’t missed in seven field goal tries inside of 30 yards as he’s been the go-to guy for Alabama on shorter kicks. (Punter J.K. Scott has attempted the Tide’s three longest field goal tries, all from 48 yards or more, and gone 1 for 3.)

Pappanastos had a 38-yard miss in the playoff semifinal against Clemson (that miss came after a blocked 33-yarder was negated by an Alabama delay-of-game penalty), but that’s the only time he’s been off the mark in six tries from 30-39 yards.

Thomas is confident that if and when Pappanastos is called upon against Georgia, he will deliver.

“He’s had a good year,” Thomas said. “I know it’s not great by his expectations, and I know he wants to do better, but man he’s made some great strides. I know I have a lot of confidence in him, and the guys on the team do. I texted him after they won (against Clemson) and told him he was going to have a great game (against Georgia), so I’m looking forward to watching him.

“… I am excited to see what this last game holds for him.”

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