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January 8, 2017
Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
ALEX URBAN: We'd like to welcome the winner of the 2017 SBS Tournament of Champions, Justin Thomas.
Justin, this is your third PGA TOUR victory, your first in the United States. You also become the first person eligible for the 2018 SBS Tournament of Champions. Just some thoughts on the week and thoughts on the day. Obviously your lead grew and shrank.
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, it was a different position for me. I wasn't too comfortable shorting -- I shouldn't say too comfortable, but I wasn't too familiar with starting a day with a two-shot lead. Something I'd like to get comfortable with and familiar with.
But I was very calm. I just felt great going into today, and just the week, just because I felt like I was playing well enough to where if I just manage my game well and I minimize my mistakes, then I should at least be around the hunt.
Especially coming into today, I just kept telling myself, especially being this windy, it's tough out there. This place is playing -- it's harder than at least I've played it, and I just was trying to hit fairways and hit greens to give myself birdie putts. Made it a little harder on myself than I would have liked, but I got it done.
Q. How do you go from a five-shot lead to watching Hideki over a 10-foot to tie you in a span of three holes and keep your wits about yourself? And secondly, if you could kind of just walk us through what goes through your mind as the ball is in the air on 17, the 8-iron.
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, it was -- I mean, 14, I couldn't do anything about. I didn't hit a -- that was a driver all week, for me but in the position I was in, there's no reason to hit driver. So I decided to lay up, and I hit a bad 4-iron. 4-iron wasn't my club today, as you'll see.
But I mean, I hit a great shot in there and felt like if I could have made that putt, that would have been huge. But just like it was on 14, 15 and 16, I mean, length-wise, they were great looks but I just had to be so tentative on them. I had to be so perfect to where you're really just hoping the hole gets in the way and it just rolls past if it does.
So I wasn't really too flustered by 14, just because he hit an unbelievable chip. And I put it perfect again off the tee on 15. And something about that hole, I just don't like. I played 3-over this week, with two 8-irons and 4-iron and a chip shot.
But I think I just was kind of sick of hitting it down to the right so much, so I tried to kind of hold a 4-iron against it, which there's no reason to do. Down to the right was okay. And I just laid the sod; I fat-hooked it right in the hazard. Yeah, it wasn't exactly ideal, obviously, coming back and being one shot up.
But at the same time, you know, like I told Jimmy walking up to 17 tee, I was like, we would have taken this spot before the week started. I was still playing great. I was hitting a lot of good shots. It was just a lot slimmer lead than it could have been.
And then shot on 17 was definitely the best shot I hit this week. It was really, really steep downslope. I probably would have hit driver if I wouldn't have gone through the fairway yesterday. But it just wasn't worth nuking one and getting a big bounce, and going in the hazard is the last thing you want. It wasn't realistic. It probably wouldn't have happened. I did hit a great 3-wood and I had 8-iron in.
There's just a tree that's a little slanted, and it's a perfect aiming point every day for my second shot. I just kind of aimed it there and made sure I held on to the club, if anything, to make sure my miss was right. And I just tried to make sure I got tilted with the hook and I didn't chunk it, and really, I just flushed it, and as soon as it came off, I knew it was going to be perfect.
Q. Even with -- (no mic).
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, absolutely. I was -- I guess I wasn't 100 percent, but I was 90 percent it was going to be within 15 feet. You know, I had to follow through and kind of walk up the hill a little bit, and kind of when I stopped, I was like: Jimmy, that's pretty good, let's watch this shot.
Q. Going back to 15, I walked to Jimmy and he said you didn't say a word about it and you completely moved on. Would you have done that two years ago, do you think?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Probably not. I probably would still be out there crying or whining about it.
That's the thing, obviously it would have been different if I was one -- if I had a one-shot lead and I did that to go 1-down. That changes things a lot. But I still would like to hope that I would have been that calm and that patient, just because I think what helped -- y'all probably won't believe me, but I didn't really feel like it was from nerves. I felt very comfortable.
The only time I felt something the last couple holes, it was like Malaysia. 17 and 18 is the only time you can feel something on the putts. At least it was for me.
I felt like I was going to hit a good shot. Obviously wasn't a good swing; I did something. I still knew that I could get that up-and-down for par. Although I end up making double, I still had a one shot thread with three to go. And then I have a wedge can, and 17 is I guess is a birdie opportunity if I can hit a good drive, and 18 I can get to in two. I was like, I thought I would just play these last three holes 1-under or 2-under, take our chances, see what happens.
Q. What's the difficulty for you in opening with a two-shot lead and then obviously pulling to five, if there was one?
JUSTIN THOMAS: It's just staying in the moment. Just trying to keep my head down and keep pressing. I mean, 10 was terrible. Just the fact that I hit that left of the green was so bad.
I think I got caught up a little bit there because I saw -- he made double, I don't know how he did, but I just saw he made double and I saw my lead went to five. I was like, man, I could really open this up. I mean, it was dumb. I just needed to, I just need to make sure my miss was right, especially for having a pitching wedge in my hand.
Although, I didn't really account for the hill and I hit it left, but still the fact, I shouldn't be missing a pitching wedge left of the green when you can't go left. I just tried to stay calm and try not to look ahead and try not to look at the leaderboard, but everywhere it's pretty hard to miss at these tournaments. Yeah, I felt like I was staying pretty calm.
Q. Take us back to before CIMB last year. You obviously won CIMB the year before. Take us back to that and the feeling that you had about your game and where you're at now, having won both CIMB again and now this event.
JUSTIN THOMAS: So how my game felt before CIMB?
Q. Before you won the second time and where you feel how your game moved before that moment from CIMB last year --
JUSTIN THOMAS: I felt good. I just had a great weekend in Napa to get a Top-10. I mean, I felt like I had a chance to win the tournament if I would have played a little better on Sunday.
So many times you can come off of a good event, that's obviously a little bit of momentum. But then again, you're flying across the world and you don't know where you are. Your body doesn't know where you are, so it's tough to deal with it. I just have a calmness over there for some reason, very similar to what I felt this week, which is nice.
But this week, there's just something about it. I feel like my game is in a better -- I was in better form. I did play well this week, but there's no wind when you're playing in a dome, so the ball is going to do what you're doing. And out here, you have to hit a lot more shots. And I felt like I hit -- although I didn't feel like I hit my irons real well the first two days, I hit a lot of really, really quality shots the last two days in some big-time situations, or in some situations where if I don't hit a good one, a huge momentum could swing.
I just felt like -- I felt more confident, or I didn't feel like I needed necessarily my A Game to get it done or to be where I was this week to be where I am. I just needed to go about my business and minimize my mistakes.
Q. You're a fiery guy. How have you learned to channel that into a positive thing on the golf course?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Can you define fiery? (Laughter).
Q. How do you channel that into a positive? And secondly, first week of January, two weeks under your belt, do you reset goals or are they already set pretty high to start with?
JUSTIN THOMAS: They were set high, but I mean, I still have plenty of other goals that I would like to achieve and stuff that's over the long-term, the course of the year.
But winning twice in the first four events helps, for sure. Sounds kind of nice now that I just said that out loud. I feel like, you know, we'll sit back, we'll enjoy this tonight, this afternoon. Although, I have a six-hour POLO photo shoot tomorrow morning; so it's not going to be anything too crazy tonight.
But I'm going to have to regroup and focus on next week, because next week is a course that I really like and I feel like another good opportunity for me to be in the hunt and have a chance to win.
I think that's where I'm growing a little bit more in that it's week-to-week. It's not looking at previous weeks when I'm at a tournament or looking at following events when I'm at a tournament; it's I am focusing on that week. And once it's over, take the positives, try to blow over the negatives and go on to the next.
Q. Talking to you last year at Hilton Head, you said you did not feel you had under-achieved but you felt you could have done more and it didn't help that the media was going on about what other young players had done and you couldn't help but see that. Has it pushed you or changed you? How have you come to grips with that the last eight to ten months?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I think it drove me a lot. It's weird, I mean, some of my good friends, I mean, I'm never -- trying to think how I'm going to word this (laughter).
I wasn't mad, but it was maybe a little frustrating sometimes seeing some friends and peers my age do well. Not because I wasn't cheering for them because I feel like I was as good as them. It's just immature of me. I mean, the fact of the matter is, over the course of a long career, we're going to beat each other. That's just how it is.
I think now, I feel so much more comfortable. I really do. I think that that win in Malaysia, not the first one, but this last one, was huge, because I never played with a lead like that before. Obviously I was four back going into the day, but I mean, I had a multiple-shot lead I think on most of the back nine, and that was tough for me.
I had never been in that position, and that helped me a lot here today, because it's a similar course, places you need to make a lot of birdies, places you're building, not holding off the lead, if that makes sense.
I just feel like, maybe the first time in Malaysia when I won when I was in there, I was maybe kind of like, you know, what am I doing here, but now it's like, okay, I belong here, I should be here. Now use the past experiences to my advantage and kind of go from there, sort of thing, I guess.
Q. Expanding on that just a little bit, certainly you knew how hot Hideki has been and he still is. But with that win, you're the one guy to beat him. We talked about it yesterday, you were the one guy to beat him in the last few months. But did that help you at all today, and you know, with your confidence coming down the stretch at all, or how did you kind of approach that?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I think Jimmy and I, he did a great job this week. He did an unbelievable job, and especially today, just kept reminding me: We can't control what they are doing. All we can do is try to make birdies, hit our shots. He's like, "You're swinging it well, you're rolling it well. Just keep doing what we're doing, stick to our game plan and everything will be fine and we don't need to worry about anybody else."
Some of those up-and-downs Hideki had today were unbelievable it really could have gotten out of hand or it could have gotten a lot uglier pretty quick. I could have had a six- or seven-shot lead on that back nine, and because of what he was doing and making those up-and-downs and that chip-in, it became a golf tournament.
There's a reason why he's as hot as he is. He doesn't really make any mistakes. He hits it unbelievable. He's rolling it well. His short game's great, and that pretty much covers it all. He's a good at golf, I guess is what I'm trying to say.
Q. So what are your goals for the rest of the year then?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I don't share my goals, because I'm just going to get reminded of them all year. I keep it between my team and I, and we -- you know, we have it to look at. I've said before, if anybody breaks into my phone, they are going to be able to find them.
But I have those just as kind of a reference to look back at, or to not necessarily see where I'm at, but it's something I've done every year, just to have it written down end of the year, say if I achieved it and if I didn't, kind of go from there -- yeah, I'm not telling.
Q. What's the best year you've ever had meeting your goals?
JUSTIN THOMAS: My rookie year, for sure. I didn't meet too many of them last year.
Q. Jason Day said it's floodgates open. Do you think that that could be the case for you?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I hope so. I think like I was saying, it's just being more comfortable. It's not when I get in that situation, I more so expect to win, as opposed -- not expect, but I feel like I have a better chance to win, as opposed to maybe the first time, like, I hope I win, you know what I mean. So just comfortable, I'd say.
Q. Various levels of players, the way they are perceived out here, the elite group, whatever you want to call it, where do you see yourself? When you talk about feeling like belonging when you won in Malaysia last time, where do you see yourself now in the big picture?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I don't know, Doug, you're the big writer. I'll let you be the one to judge that (laughter). There you go. I think I just proved my point (laughter).
Q. You made a good run at The Ryder Cup Team last year. Surely you wanted to make it badly with Davis Love there and everything. What did you pull out of that experience of the last couple months, and how tough was it with the pressure and everything? What did you learn out of that?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, that was the No. 1 goal I had last year, and that really, really hurt not making that team. I had a great opportunity. I should have if I just would have played like I know I could have or how I felt like I should have.
But I just was thinking about it too much, and I put too much heat on myself. But I mean, I played -- I played well at Barclays. I mean, I had a great week at THE PLAYERS. I just didn't have enough for quality weeks. I had too much inconsistency.
But I was really proud of myself how I played in Atlanta. I felt like that Sunday, and I don't know how close it was -- but I really felt like if I had posted a good number on Sunday, I had a great chance to make that team. I felt like it was a lot more pressure than having to win a golf tournament because of how bad I wanted to be on that team. I just love those team events and I just love that kind of brotherhood and those things that you have as a team together, and just wanted to be a part of it.
I felt like I handled adversity well and I handled the pressure well. Just didn't play well enough.
Q. How much confidence do you take out of this week, and how much do you like this golf course?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I take a lot of confidence. Just any time you win, it builds confidence. Yeah, I like this course. I'd say it suits my game well. I was really proud of the way I drove it this week. Even some of the fairways I missed, just from going through -- some of those fairways, you just can't hit, or sometimes.
But the shot that I wanted to get out of my game I only hit once this week on 9. That's the one that gets me in trouble, and the one where I'm often re-teeing or dropping, and I just got fortunate to where there was a whole lot of room left, and I got a great break with a good lie.
Yeah, I like the course. It's a vacation tournament, I guess you can call it, but I'm excited to come back to are sure.
Q. You spoke about not trying to get too far ahead, a week at a time or whatever, but you've basically locked up THE TOUR Championship and a Presidents Cup spot, you just talked about team golf. Feel like you can celebrate that this early --
JUSTIN THOMAS: Absolutely not. I mean, I don't -- making THE TOUR Championship is great, but I don't play to do that. I mean, I have higher goals set for myself. It's a tremendous accomplishment, it is, and I definitely agree with that. I had a solid year last year to finish 12th or whatever it was.
I feel like that was a big goal my rookie year, and a little bit of a goal last year. But I mean, you hate to ever -- I don't want to downplay it or anything, but it's a great accomplishment. I am happy that I'm going to be there.
But I'm more worried about Sony Open right now. I'm worried about the next event I'm playing in. I built my schedule this year around the majors. I feel like I'm in a better place in my game and mentally to where I can give the majors a bit of a run this year and hopefully get into contention. I guess that's just where I'm at right now.
Q. The break on 9, did you expect to find it, and how did you do -- ball sitting a few inches above the root?
JUSTIN THOMAS: That's the kind of things that happen when you win. I've said that before; that in tournaments that we've been in contention and I've hit a good shot that gets a bad bounce and we'll make a bogey or something like that, and the week's over, and Jimmy and I are like, it just wasn't our week.
That's the stuff -- like what happened to me on 9, that's what happens when you win. When we walked in there, I was like, do we even want to find this ball? Because realistically, if I don't find it, if I take the point between me and the hole, I've got to go back to 9 tee -- or 2 tee, and then I'm just going to be chipping down the fairway. Or I have to go back to 9 tee and I have to hit the drive again. So it's like, I'm going to be right where I just hit my next drive; do we want to find this.
And then I took a couple more steps, I know it looked a little more thin, where I thought the ball was -- because I saw it took a huge hop. Thought, may as well look. If I can hit this fairway, I'd rather be trying to get up-and-down from 40 yards for par than 240 yards. And the spotter, I don't know his name unfortunately, or where he's at, but I owe him a big thanks because he found it. It was sitting nice.
Q. Was this win made any sweeter having your parents here, and did you feel any pressure because your parents are here?
JUSTIN THOMAS: No. It was great having them here. I was joking, I apparently have to fly at least 12 hours to get a win on the PGA TOUR (laughter). I'd like to fly, maybe keep it a little closer, but I guess I'm getting closer. I'm building on it. It was great having them here. I was surprised my mom held it together as well as she did. I told my mom on 18 green, my mom is about to be a mess.
It was good, I was glad to see that. I definitely made them stress a little bit more than probably they would have liked, but yeah, I love having them here.
Q. I read something in a book about you collecting balls from your tournament wins -- were you talking about junior golf, too?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I don't know what I'm at. I really don't know. I'm like 100-something, 120-ish. My dad would probably know. I want to say it's around 125 to 130 if I had to guess, every tournament. He already has the ball. Jimmy almost lost it.
Q. When you talk about gearing your schedule towards the majors, what does that mean physically, and does this win change your schedule?
JUSTIN THOMAS: No, it doesn't. I basically had it set throughout the year. I like the weeks off before majors just because they are so grueling usually. Like I love Houston, I love the course. I think it's great prep. The greens are very fast and severe like Augusta.
But I look at it as, I go to a tournament to win, and if you win, it takes a lot out of you, and you don't want to be going into Augusta not feeling 100 percent. So that's kind of where I'm at. I like taking the weeks off to, I'll go to Augusta the week before. I'll go a couple days to a place and go back home and just to see how the course is. It's pretty similar all the time when it's not tournament week, I'd say.
But just making sure that I'm fresh and I'm ready. I know the courses and so when I get there, I'm doing less preparation, or less preparation on the golf course and in my game and more just kind of maintaining, I guess you could say.
Q. Was there a time earlier or any time in your career where you had a decent lead and it shrunk and you feared blowing it?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Today? Today count? I mean, it entered my mind, for sure.
Yeah, it wasn't like -- it entered my mind. It wasn't like, oh, crap, I can't blow this, sort of thing. More like, man, this would suck, sort of thing, I guess you could say (laughing).
I felt confident. I felt like I was still going to get it done. But I'm trying to think if I did any in college -- my ball was in the air in Malaysia and hit the cart path. I immediately saw it sticking in a tree -- but I had a four-shot lead or something. I thought, I could at least make 7 and get in the house. I think that's it. Today, probably.
Q. Standing over that putt, are you thinking you're tied going to 17?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Probably, yeah. He's such a great putter and he's obviously very clutch. Yeah, it was a tough putt, just because it's a lot of break and you have to match up the speed and the line right.
But yeah, I for sure thought he was going to make that. But it's the same thing, I told myself with a one-shot lead, I told Jimmy, look, if you would have told us Wednesday we're walking up to 17 tee tied with Hideki, I'd take that every single week and take my chances. That was kind of the big picture I was telling myself.
Q. (No mic).
JUSTIN THOMAS: No, this is actually comical. I woke up this morning and the first thing that came to my mind was like, it's Sunday; the game's tomorrow. I swear. I was like, I was nervous. And then I was laying there a little bit longer and then today came to mind. I was like, man, we play the National Championship tomorrow. We've got to win this game. (Laughter).
ALEX URBAN: We'd like to once again congratulate Justin Thomas, our 2017 SBS Tournament of Champions winner.
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