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SENTRY TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS MEDIA CONFERENCE
December 18, 2017
ALEX URBAN: I'm going to open up with a question for you, Justin. Thank you for your time. You sit here on December 18 and you look back at everything you've accomplished since this time last year, winning the FedExCup, first major championship, shooting 59, what goes through your mind when you think about getting back to Kapalua and defending your Sentry Tournament of Champions title?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Well, I'm just really excited. I hope that that is my first tournament of the year for the rest of my career.
I think it's well-known by everybody how much we all love it. It's just a great way to kind of, not ease into the year but get the year going because of how relaxing it is. The course is great. You know, there's obviously some great places to eat. And who doesn't like being in Hawaii?
I'm excited to get back. It's been a nice off-season but over the last week or so, I've been starting to get a little hungry and ready to get back out there.
ALEX URBAN: You've really embraced coming back to Kapalua along with some of the other young players. Why is that?
JUSTIN THOMAS: It's just so fun, it really. Is the course is fun. You can make a lot of birdies on it. The limited field is nice. The rounds go by fast playing in twosomes. It's just a laid-back vibe. People aren't really grinding and practicing after their rounds. Just kind of finish up and go to the beach or go to the pool, and great places to eat which is always enjoyable. There's really nothing negative about the tournament.
Q. What do you see as your biggest challenge for 2018?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Probably honestly just kind of just comparing. I think that the year goes on, trying not to compare this year to last year, you know, by say halfway through the year, for some reason if I haven't won yet or I haven't played well, or even if I have played well just not as well, because I know I'm constantly going to get reminded of what I did last year versus this year and whether it's better or whether it's worse.
I think the hardest part is going to be staying in the moment and recognizing that it's a new year. It's a new opportunity for great things and I just need to continue to work hard.
Q. Secondly, is there, how am I going to phrase this, is there any temptation to not make any changes to your schedule when you're coming off a successful year like that? In other words, just leave everything the way it was.
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I think I played a number of events -- I did well taking weeks off to get ready for the majors, making sure I'm fresh for those and making sure my game is in the best possible place for the majors.
Yeah, I'm going to probably do a very similar schedule. I make take off an event here or there but overall as a whole, it hasn't been too tempting.
Q. Looking at your career numbers statistically, your driving distance is very high, your accuracy not quite as high, your greens in regulation not as high, but you've done an amazing job of converting birdies out of this. What is it that -- how do you read these statistics and what do you want to improve?
JUSTIN THOMAS: You know, I look at stats a lot. It's an easy way to tell, an easy way to know what you're good at or what you need to improve on. I look at them for that reason.
I mean, the driving stuff, the distance obviously is nice but I would love to start hitting more fairways and that's something I've really been working hard on, and I think I did a great job the last third of the season and I feel like that's why I played as well as I did. I'm going to continue to work on that, and continue to work on everything I was working on.
But inside-ten-feet putting is something I really want to get better at this year. I wanted to get better at outside ten least last year and I did, but because of that my inside-ten-feet struggled. That means I just have to put in a little bit more work.
You know, there's a lot of people out there that are working to have a Player of the Year-type year, and I know that I need to continue to work hard if I want to do that again.
Q. When you have a year like that, and at your age, put so much money in the bank, how does that not affect your motivation or your incentive to continue to excel?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I don't know honestly. I truly don't -- it's hard to explain because I really thought -- obviously excited and it's nice. But I've never been once, wow, I have all this or wow, I could buy this or that.
I never in my mind have I been like, okay, I'm playing golf to win all this money or do this. I'm truly playing because I want to win a lot, a lot of golf tournaments and majors and hopefully have a Hall of Fame type career. The money really is just a bonus. I'm sure a lot of people honestly don't believe me but I don't know, I've never once thought about the money.
Q. You have four title defenses coming up this year, you're the reigning FedExCup Champion, you've reached another level. Have you thought about and will you address all the demands on your time that will be coming as far as when you practice and stuff like that?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, just going to have to get a little better at managing my time and know that I'm going to have a press conference every Wednesday.
Last year, I guess after the PGA, really. It's weird, I don't even think I had a press -- I don't know if I had a press conference at the PGA this year before it started. You know, life's changed a little bit but all for good reason.
In reality, as much as I hate to say it, I'm just going to have to pick-and-choose sort of thing. I know a lot of people are going to want time and this and that, but that's something I've really talked with my management with. I'm like, look, I need to make sure I'm doing everything that I would normally do and need to do to be as ready as possible to play well in a tournament.
You know, whether if I unfortunately have to say no to a lot of things that week, then I do, or if I feel good and I have the time, I will. It's just going to be something that I kind of -- I'm going to have to feel out and get a gauge for and get comfortable with and see what works best for me.
Q. And secondly, should I take Alabama and lay the points?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I don't know, we have a gambling policy on TOUR -- (laughter).
Q. I have a question that relates to your schedule and trying to choreograph that. I know you're still -- you barely got the training wheels off on your career, you're still a fresh face and maybe trying to figure all this out, but 25 starts in the calendar year 2017, is that about right or is that a lot? Does that seem like the right number? What do you see that doing in 2018, going up, down, same?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I'd say it's pretty similar. I may add an event, may add one event and take off an event that I played or something like that. But no, I really liked the schedule that I had. It's always tough around the Masters. I have my AJGA event that I like to go home for if I can. I kind of planned on not playing that week, I forget which event it is during this year.
It's really just -- I mean, all scheduling is around the majors and making sure I'm ready for that, and I think that I have a really good plan or feel of what's best for me. I like to take weeks off before the majors, although as funny as it is, the one major I won, I played the week before so maybe I'm on to something there. Before the Masters, I use the week prior to go there and spend some time there, so that won't change.
At some point in my career, whether it's this year or down the road, I'm sure I'll go play in the Scottish. I'd love to play The Irish Open for Rory some year. But you know, at this point, there's a lot of things I still want to do on this tour before I start traveling and trying to win on The European Tour, as well.
Q. Did you not play the HSBC because you basically hit the wall, playing the other couple Asian events leading into that? I know you didn't show up for that one.
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I don't play because it's just not -- although it's a fit for long hitters, I don't play very well. It's truly a course where I feel like if I go there, I -- it's maybe the only place I've ever played where I don't feel like I can win.
To me, I know it's a WGC, and it's a lot of money, it's a lot of points, and this may sound bad, but I'm not going to waste my time and spend a week across the country for a tournament that I don't even think I can win. So there's no reason to play.
Q. What are the holiday plans and what are the most memorable Christmas presents you've gotten?
JUSTIN THOMAS: That's a tough one. My parents used to always, I know for probably three or four, five years, they would have a big present for me hidden somewhere. And I remember one year, I don't know how old I was, but I was opening my -- I was opening my presents. I was sitting on the floor and -- and I would see a golf club box or whatever wrapped under the couch or whatever. I'm like, what's that, and they saw that I saw it and noticed I pulled it out. I think it was a Scottie Cameron that year that I still have. That was a pretty cool gift.
Q. How old were you?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I really don't know to be honest.
Q. And what do you ask for after a fruitful year with on-course earnings, what do you ask for this year?
JUSTIN THOMAS: My parents and girlfriend get so mad because they say it's so hard to get something for someone who are already has everything. I told them, I don't care, I don't need anything, I don't want anything. I told them I can always use more stuff for my house but they don't think that's a very good Christmas present. I'm not sure what I'm going to get (laughing).
Q. I was wondering, after you were paired with Tiger at the Hero, did you come away thinking he could compete with you younger guys who never experienced the mystique he seemed to carry in his heyday, and do you expect him to contend at the Masters?
JUSTIN THOMAS: If he's healthy, there's no reason he wouldn't. That's a place that you -- if you know the place well or as well as he does; there's a reason that Freddie plays well there for so long and Bernhard Langer and Larry Mize has had great rounds there at last couple years. It's just such an advantage in knowing the course; the more you play it, it really just makes a world of difference.
If he stays healthy, I really do think he'll have a great year. You just don't know. He hasn't played that much competitive golf for a while, so that's -- it's hard to say. I mean, obviously it's hard to not -- not hype it up or not talk about this or that but in reality, we just need to let him do him and see what happens because in the end no one knows and we're just going to have to wait and find out.
Q. What stood out most about his play and the environment you had surrounding him?
JUSTIN THOMAS: You know, he was -- obviously I had never played a competitive round with him but I was -- I don't know if it was his tournament or what, but he was just so happy which was so cool to see.
I've spent some time around him the last couple years and I've never seen him happier with life, with everything. As a friend but more so as a fan, yeah, I want to beat his brains in like I want to beat everyone's brains in on TOUR every week I play. I still am and always will be a huge Tiger Woods fan. It was really cool to see him having that much fun and grinding it out and playing well.
So you know, it's been a dream of mine since I was a kid to be coming down the stretch with Tiger Woods and hopefully it happens and hopefully I can come out on the other side. But regardless, I think this will be a great year for him.
Q. Just following up on that topic of Tiger and some of these other old guys who are still hanging around, does that add intrigue for you as a fan or as a player to kind of have guys from a generation you grew up watching possibly be in contention, and are you aware of kind of how that's been part of the history of the game at times?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I guess so. I've argued with my dad for so long, and I still do, and he doesn't bring it up as much. But the golf ball doesn't know how old you are. There's no reason that because you're a certain age or you're this or that, it doesn't mean you can't do something.
The thing is, all these veterans, I guess you could say, they have so much experience and they know the places so well to where they are always going to be there if they are putting the work in and their game's good. Or in all honesty, if they still have that want and that grind, because I'm sure a lot of guys play out here 20, 25, 30 years; it can get -- the body will wear down but you just don't know if the motivation is exactly the same. I don't know if that's true or not.
But it's fun to play with them, people I've looked up to and watched when I was a kid. It's probably been more fun for me just to become friends with them.
Q. I know you're an equipment traditionalist. I wonder if you made any equipment changes between the fall and 2018? Last year you shared goals with us at the end of the season; I wondered if you made yourself a new list. You don't have to share them. I just wondered if you made one. And I would be interested to find the reaction to the different places you've been that you've taken the PGA Championship trophy, maybe some top three best places as far as you're concerned that it went?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Well, I'll just go ahead and knock the goals one out. Yes, I have done it and no, I will not share (laughs). In terms of -- I shared them my rookie year and I regretted doing it, so I've made a commitment to myself to keep them within my team and myself. I just think it's better to do it that way.
In terms of equipment, no, I've messed with new wedges a little bit. I just really have a hard time changing something I've done so well with. I'll definitely change into those at some point since they are great wedges and it's not that hard of a change but everything else is the same.
The PGA Championship (trophy) I haven't taken it that many places. I took it down to Bakers Bay for a family vacation, that was pretty fun, and got to drink out of it with the family. We had ten of us down there, so that was pretty cool and pretty fun. It made for a nice centerpiece at the dinner table, that's for sure.
But probably the coolest we've taken it is for the Alabama LSU game. I had no idea why and I don't know what I did to deserve it but just how welcoming and how loved everybody there makes me feel. It's something I really can't put into words. I took it into one of my favorite bars, a little pub there. I know the manager really well, so I took in for lunch right when I got there, and we got to have some drinks out of it and got to sit there and let it hang for a little bit.
It's fun to share because I have a lot of fans and a lot of friends and a lot of people and people that have been great to me in Tuscaloosa. To be able to share it with them is probably the coolest experience I've had with it.
Q. You had said before that you were going to have it spend some time in your dad's golf shop yet?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I haven't taken it home yet. I was going to take it home for Thanksgiving but I have not yet.
Q. We're going to throw out the PGA, two of the best shots you've hit last year were the 8-iron into the 17th at Kapalua and the 5-iron out of the bunker on the ninth at Sony that led to the 59. Which shot, which one is better, and why?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Well, better for my is the fairway bunker shot because I struck a lot of fairway bunkers and if you gave me a hundred ball, I probably wouldn't be able to hit the green again. But I just as easily could have won the tournament if I hit the green and got up-and-down for four.
But the 8-iron in terms of circumstances and what has happening in the tournament, that was one of the best shots I hit last year and of my career. I mean, if I lose that tournament, who knows what happens last year. It's easy to say, if, whatever. But I think I had a 5-shot lead with five to play and if I lose that, that's going to hurt a little bit. That one would have stung. That was a huge shot for me and potentially for my career just in terms of closing that one out.
Q. I'd be curious in your best storytelling mode if you could give us an example of the last time money did mean something to you, the last time you wanted to buy something or the last time you worked to try and buy something.
JUSTIN THOMAS: The last time, I worked --
Q. The last time you really had to, motivated by money because you wanted to buy something. I'd prefer if you were eight years or older in the story.
JUSTIN THOMAS: It's tough. I mean, buying my first house, that was a pretty big deal last year. I mean, that was -- but that wasn't -- I guess you could say I was working for that but I technically wasn't. I was going to get one. It just was either going to be a little more expensive or less expensive than I thought. It's tough. I'm trying to think.
I've never like loved certain things, like loved -- like people love cars or stuff like that. I think -- you're crushing me.
Q. You need a hobby apparently.
JUSTIN THOMAS: I know. I don't have any hobbies. I'm terrible. I sit on the couch all day and I'll swim in the pool or something. I'm just trying to think of something that, maybe stupid I've gotten, you wouldn't expect or something like that. I've got nothing for you, Dougie, I'm sorry. I'll try to think of something.
Q. You mentioned you were tired and the hunger starting to come back. Can you take us through how that's building and what it's like for you not to be playing -- I know you were looking forward to it but has it started --
JUSTIN THOMAS: I'm sorry. I didn't hear the beginning of that.
Q. Just asking, you were gassed; you were tired; you needed your break, and then you also mentioned that you've got the hunger starting to come back. If you can run us through how that's building and what it is that makes you realize it's time to play again?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, well, it's what I love, playing golf and competing to win is something I've dreamed of doing since I was a little kid. To do it now is a blast but at the same time, when you do win, it just takes so much out of you. It was such a crazy end of the year from the PGA to Atlanta, and I was in contention so often, and a lot of, not stress, but just a lot of emotions and yeah, it caught up to me.
But it took a good amount of time off, not really doing -- unfortunately I went to Tiger's event not as prepared as I should have been. But at the same time, I don't regret what I did. If I just played the easier holes better, I would have been just fine.
But I was to the point where if I went out to practice, it was not going to be productive because I didn't want to. I had no desire to. I've been working out, you know, really hard just to try to get my body in the best shape just to make sure that I'm continuing to play injury-free and no little things come up, just working on a couple weaknesses I have in my body to make sure those don't pop up.
And when I kind of get going in there with my trainer, Colby. They do a cool thing in the gym where they hang out banners for every time their students, I guess you could call it, win. I remember last year, DJ had about 12 up there and I'm looking up at the wall and I have nothing, and I'm like, "This sucks, I've got to get something up there" (chuckling)". It was a solid end to the season so I have a couple banners up there.
It's funny, and honestly childish as it is, it's kind of motivating. You go in there and you see DJ No. 1 in the world and winning all these tournaments, and I'm like, man, I kind of want to be doing that. And watching guys win tournaments, Rosey is playing unbelievable right now. I guess at least he's keeping it in the "Justin" family.
I've had a great couple days of practice here, just been working hard to kind of get back to the fundamentals, not like starting over, but sort of, you know. Just making sure that everything doesn't get out of sync and just, it's exciting to go compete again.
Q. How important is it to you in terms of just general feel and comfortableness and all that sort of stuff when you go on these mini-breaks with these other guys, how does that play itself out into how well you play?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I don't think it has anything to do with how well I play. Even if they didn't want to go, I would do something of some sort, whether, you know, go visit with my girlfriend or go on a trip with her or go on a trip with my family. I have such a great family and cousins. I mean, those have been some of my best trips sometimes has been with them, even over the guys. Yeah, me and Mike (ph) just had a bachelor party in Cabo so we had a good time there for a couple days. It keeps us grounded.
But at the end of the day, yeah, we may be great players on the PGA TOUR but we're still people. You know, if we just were normal people with normal jobs, we would still try to do the same thing. But there's no reason why we can't do it because we're TOUR players. Yeah, we have a standard and obviously we're doing things probably a lot differently than maybe a lot of other people would be doing on vacation but we're doing what's fun for us and spending time with each other.
Q. Did you say you're using the same trainer as Koepka and DJ?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Correct. They -- so it's in Joey-D's gym. I work with Colby Sawyer.
Q. Okay. But it's under the same roof?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yes, exactly.
Q. And that's down in West Palm?
JUSTIN THOMAS: In Jupiter, yeah.
Q. Jupiter, okay. You mentioned, I just wanted to follow up with something you said, and you sort of ventured of on another tangent. You mentioned having an argument with your dad that somehow related to young guys and old guys and I just wanted to touch base with you and see what the discussion was about.
JUSTIN THOMAS: Well, it's just like when I first got on Tour, I was like, "Look like guys are -- like why am I missing these cuts or why am I not playing well? Look at him, he's doing well."
And my dad would be like, "Well, he's been on TOUR this long" or "he's older than you."
And I'm like, "It doesn't matter. Just because he's 30 and I'm 21, it has nothing to do with the fact that he's playing better golf than I am and I want to play better golf."
So I just said that there's no argument that made me more mad than when he would say that because it's true. I mean, the golf ball doesn't know how old you are. Yeah, the experience is a huge factor, but there's no reason that I can't accomplish something just because of my age. That will never sit with me and it never has.
But now that obviously I've got older, I'm not middle-aged, but now that I'm getting older, he doesn't have to use that argument on me as much.
Q. I think I understand his point, the more at-bats you have against Major League pitchers, the better hitter you're going to be, I guess; correct?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I think so. But he was more so -- like my big thing was -- I'm trying to think of -- I honestly I compare to Jordan a lot starting out. I was like, you know what, if Jordan -- but he was the same age as me, so he wouldn't use him.
I'm trying to think of someone that I would do -- but it would just be like, I didn't get why -- why is this person playing so well and I'm not. Not that I was mad at that person. I would just use them as an example and he would just always be like, yeah, he's older than you and you're a lot younger than him.
I'm like, that has no relevance at all to this argument of what I'm talking about that he's playing better than me.
Q. What's the most you've ever weighed? Are you like a size 30-inch waist?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Actually I've put on about 15 or 20 pounds this year.
Q. Come on. You're make 160?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I'm 165 right now.
Q. Oh, wow. Macho Man.
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, it's a lot of off-season habits, as well. Coming off of Thanksgiving and then the Christmas, I'll be excited to start eating a little bit better again. I've been trying to eat as well as I can these last couple weeks, but there's only so well you can do.
Q. You're preaching to a bunch of middle-aged guys. We know the lyrics to that song.
ALEX URBAN: I'm going to go ahead and wrap it up. Want to thank everyone for calling in and asking great questions, and I want to thank Justin Thomas for taking time out of his schedule to make some time to talk about the Sentry Tournament of Champions and coming back to defend that and obviously defending the next week at Sony Open, as well. Thank you, J.T.
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