AUGUSTA, Ga. – Hopefully Justin Thomas’ usual crew will understand that the chance to play Augusta National with two of the best Masters competitors alive was too good to pass up.
Thomas knows that knowledge is priceless around here, so he teed it up with Tiger Woods and Fred Couples for nine holes Monday ahead of his third Masters appearance.
“A place like this, I’m going to choose learning experience over my normal people I play practice rounds with,” Thomas said. “I don’t care what they say to me, how much grief they’re going to give me. If it would have worked out, I would have played with those two all three days.”
Thomas had media obligations when Woods and Couples were on the course Tuesday morning. The 24-year-old Louisville native would have preferred to join them rather than answer questions, but at least he’s done answering the big question thanks to his victory at the PGA Championship last August.
“It’s big for, first and foremost, just the confidence standpoint,” Thomas said. “Not getting questions on a day like today. ‘When do you feel like you’re going to get your first major?’ Or, ‘Do you feel like you’re one of the best players without a major?’ I was glad to get that over with as quick as I could.”
An eight-time winner on Tour, Thomas added victories at the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges and the Honda Classic to start the season strong. He enters Augusta National No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings and No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, on top of his game and entering the prime of what figures to be a long, prosperous career.
Thomas finished T-39 in his Masters debut in 2016 and was T-22 a year ago. He grew up idolizing Woods and fondly remembers the chip on 16 that helped him earn a fourth green jacket. He was devastated when fellow Kentuckian Kenny Perry lost to Angel Cabrera in a 2009 playoff and called it a “huge heartbreak.”
Now with eight rounds of experience under his belt, Thomas understands the challenge and pressure Perry was up against. He believes one of the biggest keys at Augusta is to stay mentally sharp and stick to the game plan. Impatience is the easiest way to make bogey or worse, and Thomas has worked hard to improve an attitude that used to be pretty bad.
“I was a fiery kid,” Thomas said. “I’m still the same fiery person, but I was just a lot more immature then. So I just looked like an idiot out there instead of, at least I’d like to think that I don’t now, or I would hope that I don’t. (My dad and I have) had many conversations about it, and I’ve gotten so much better over the last couple years, and especially the last five or ten years. We’ve had a lot of talks about that and continue to, not only to better my golf game, but to be a better person that kids and other players look up to.”
The Masters can test a player’s mindset like no other tournament. But this time around, Thomas can rely on his success at Quail Hollow as he tries for a second consecutive major.
“I’m able to look back at the PGA Championship and just remember the things that I went through and the feelings I felt, the emotions I had,” Thomas said. “Just try to kind of learn from that and use it to my advantage.”