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February 21, 2018

Justin Thomas

Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

AMANDA HERRINGTON: We'd like to welcome Justin Thomas to the interview room here at The Honda Classic, Justin making his fourth start here at PGA National, two threes sandwiched between two MC's the last few years. Playing in your adopted hometown, sleeping in your own bed this week, coming off last week at Riv', a nice week. How you feeling this week?

JUSTIN THOMAS: I'm a little tired now. The 4:45 wake-up call this morning was I I guess you could say a bit of a wake-up call after the West Coast.

But yeah, you know, this is a place that's quite a test, especially with the wind conditions that we may get. It's a very difficult course. It's just kind of very dependent on what kind of weather and conditions you get that day. You know, if there's not a whole lot out there, then you can make some birdies and you can shoot a decent number.

But you know, you get those days where it's blowing 20 miles an hour, you're just trying to shoot under par.

Q. Rory was just asked a little bit ago about his record because it's varied, also. He's missed the cut the last two times but he's won here and tied for second. He's said this is a place where if you're a little bit off, it can really get magnified. What are your thoughts on that?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I totally agree. I my think rookie year when I missed the cut, I think I hit it -- I dropped maybe nine times in two days. I hit it in so many hazards, it was unbelievable. It's pretty easy to do, especially it rained a little bit that year and then you mix that with some wind, and you can get some pretty squirrely shots, and the rough's tough.

If you're driving it well, you can -- like Rickie did last year, you can play this course well and make a lot of pars and sprinkle in some birdies and you're going to beat a lot of the field. But if you're not playing well, it's hard to shoot a good number. You can grind it out at around par, if you're not driving it great, but if you're driving it bad, it's a tough place to play well.

Q. Is it going to be a letdown not playing with Tiger this week?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I don't really know how to answer that question (chuckling). I mean, I'd love to play with him every week. I was going to say, the crowds may be a little bit better, but I'm playing in the group in front of him which might even be worse than playing with him.

So yeah, I'm just going to be worried about what I'm trying to do I guess.

Q. One of the questions that came up last week was just the amount of traffic that goes on and the circumstances with him coming back and what you thought of it.
JUSTIN THOMAS: It was just bizarre because those first two days, there's so many people, and then Saturday morning, there was nobody. I mean, we got out there, and like Rory and I were walking up to the tee, we're like, where is everybody. Like, does he really bring that many people? (Laughing).

That was the first experience of that. Bahamas, there isn't very many people at that tournament, so I couldn't really attest to that. But firsthand, witnessing it in the group, it was pretty bizarre.

Q. A little off the beaten path, but when you win a tournament and the next time out, how difficult is it to reset, refocus, be sharp again? I didn't really look at your record, but in times that you've won, I don't know if you've gone the week after or if you've always taken a week off or whatnot but how difficult is that to reboot and be sharp again when you're still basking in what you've just done?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I like it. I think -- I'm trying to think. Pretty much every time I've won, I've been off except for Hawai'i and I won the next week, and then I was off after Sony. I think it definitely takes a lot out of you. You're tired.

But it's no secret you're obviously playing well and you have the momentum, so in that aspect, I like it. And you maybe don't feel like you have to do as much Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. You could just more so get rest and maybe kind of fine tune some stuff or make sure you continue to do the right stuff.

But more than anything, you just have to be mentally ready to go, and I think that's what I did well at Sony last year. I mean, Kapalua is such a laid-back and easy week that even with winning, it was a very low-stressed, relaxed week, so going into Sony, I felt just as fresh.

Q. You seem kind of blown away by the Tiger phenomena. It surprised you?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I mean, I knew what the crowd -- I knew there were going to be way, way, way more people than if he wasn't there, or if it was just Rory and I and somebody else. But I was just saying, that was the first time I had firsthand witnessed playing with him and then the next day him not being there, you know what I'm saying.

I mean, I played in tournaments as an amateur that he played in and saw the people -- or I've played in tournaments that he's played in and I've seen the people, but I've never actually been in the group, and then the next day him not been in the group and pretty much been able to count the people.

Q. What do you think the allure is? Obviously his record speaks for itself and he transcends the sport, really, but what is it to you?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, you just said it. You know, him and Jack are the greatest to ever play this game, no matter what anybody else would do, I would have a hard time arguing against that. All he's done for the game of golf, I think it's just unbelievable, and he deserves all the recognition, all the applause, all the accolades, everything that he's received and he gets.

I feel that he fully deserves it. I mean, it's pretty unbelievable. I think once people start going in deep into the stats and stuff that he did, you know, in his prime, it's pretty unbelievable. So I think it's no coincidence.

Q. Just to bounce off that. Tiger was dealing with some rowdiness a little bit last week, the last couple of times he's played. I know The Honda Classic is obviously growing and growing in popularity. What's it like for you to play, I'm thinking maybe 17 on Sunday, where it's especially crowded? People sometimes are doing their own thing in the back of that dining room there. Does that distract you?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I mean, I touched on this a little bit last week. I think it not, got blown out of proportion, but was just taken out of context and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

I mean, I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of; we want them cheering us on.

But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate. It's one thing if it's just you and I talking but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate and it's just not -- there's really no place for it anywhere, but especially on a golf course, which is I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport. And not that other sports aren't, but it has that persona. It has that reputation.

Yeah, that hole is hard enough. I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water to make it any harder. I hope it gets better just for the sake of the game. You know, that's not helping anything. That's not help growing the game. You know, there's those handful of people here and there that think it's funny.

But just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for, this is our jobs out here, and you just hate to somehow see something that a fan does or something that they yell influence something that affects their job.

Q. With Jim's vice captain announcements yesterday, obviously Ryder Cup on a lot of people's minds. Kind of crazy to think that the reigning PGA TOUR Player of the Year is going to be a Ryder Cup rookie in September. Do you feel like a rookie? I know how much of a goal it was for you two years ago, just missed out, but with a Presidents Cup under your belt this time.
JUSTIN THOMAS: I think right now, I don't, but I think when I get there, I'll feel a little bit like a rookie and that's what I'm going to rely on the captains or the veterans on the team, or the guys that have been there, just because I think it was perfect last year, my first team event was in America.

This year, being in Paris, those fans are very, very passionate. I've actually been to a Ryder Cup in Europe before when I was a junior. I was at the one in Wales, and it's just really cool. You know, the chants they come up with, and like I said, just how passionate they are. It's definitely going to help the experience from the Presidents Cup, but being in Europe will definitely be a different animal and a different story.

But I'm excited to hopefully have a chance to get the Cup and to be a part of it instead of watching it on TV finally.

Q. As you start building and gearing toward Augusta and the first major of the year, what's the learning curve been like for you at Augusta, and do you feel pretty ready to kind of jump in there and contend?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I love where my game is trending for Augusta. I feel like I'm getting slowly -- just very, very slowly better every week. At some point throughout the weekend, not necessarily on the back nine on Sunday, but at some point on the weekend, I've had a chance to win the tournament every event I've played in this year, which is good. Not in Kapalua; I didn't play very well there.

But at Sony, at Phoenix, and then again last week, nine holes here and there or a couple-hole stretch here and there, I had great chances to win, or I was in a position that I could have made a run to win those tournaments. I'm getting better and I'm improving on the things I need to improve on.

I just love that golf course so much, so I just need to kind of continue to work on those things and I'd like to have a chance to win one of these next three events before Augusta, that back nine on Sunday, and maybe pull one or two off just to get a little bit of momentum going into. But even without, even if I was starting this week, I feel like I would be trending in the right direction and ready.

But in terms of what I've learned, it's a patience game. Just can't short-side yourself. You can't miss it in the wrong spots, and you just kind of have to plot your way around that place and pick your spots.

Q. Despite missing the cut last year, you were still there on 18 to congratulate Rickie when he won last year at PGA National. What's that friendship like and how are you able to maintain it and also keep your competitive edge and continue to push each other?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, that was something I wouldn't do if I didn't live here. You know, it's not like -- if I miss the cut anywhere else, I'd be going home that afternoon or that next morning.

But no, Rickie, he gets these reputations, or he has this reputation of being such a great guy and such a nice guy. I truly don't think I've ever heard him say a bad thing about anybody, which is pretty impressive.

I would like to consider myself a nice person, but you know, there's still going to be that time here or there where if I don't -- I may not like something or somebody and I'll say something to a buddy. But it just like, man, it doesn't matter. He's such a good dude and he works hard and he's obviously a great player.

So I know it had been a little bit since he had won, and how much -- I feel like he gets a lot of pressure. I get that. He's one of the most recognizable players and faces in our game. I'm sure if you asked him, he would say that he's underachieved.

He's had a great career but in terms of the wins column, I'm sure he would want to have more but he's just such a consistent, steady player, and it was cool to be able to be here with his mom and sister. My mom, my family is close with their family, as well. So to kind of get to enjoy that together was pretty cool.

Q. Do you think you've underachieved or overachieved?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I definitely don't think I've overachieved. I just think I've done well. I really would have liked to have won my rookie year, or at least been in Atlanta. I felt that I was fully capable, or had the game to be there. I just obviously didn't.

But last year was obviously a great year, and hopefully something that I can do more of as my career goes on. But in terms of statistics and wins and Top 10s or whatever it may be, yeah, I think I've done well. I wouldn't say overachieved or underachieved, but there's definitely different parts that I would say I would like to be better but not a whole lot I can do about that.

Q. The Florida Swing is the start to the road to the Masters. You played last week and you're playing this week. Does it feel any different? Does Masters feel any closer because we're in Florida?

Q. No?
JUSTIN THOMAS: You asked me and -- no, it doesn't. Sorry. No, Doug, it doesn't. (Laughter).

Q. Jimmy back on the bag last week obviously. How valuable is it to have that kind of consistency back?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, it's great. It's just the little things that I didn't really think about during Sony or Phoenix that Bones or Matt may not have been as comfortable answering a question that I had asked him, or something I maybe just would do, instead of asking them for confirmation or comfort or something like that.

But it's great having Jimmy back. He's a great caddie, friend of mine. I was glad to see him for sure. Everyone was joking; if Matt was happier that Jimmy was back, or Jimmy was happier that Jimmy was back. So yeah, it's nice having him back.

Q. Back to Tiger for a minute. What's it been like, has he been a mentor in some respects to you?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, it's been great. He's someone that I've looked up to ever since my first memories of golf and someone I've always tried to model my game after. I mean, the things, like I was saying earlier, the things he's done and continued to do for the game of golf is something I hope I could have half of his legacy in terms of just growing the game. It's unbelievable.

You know, I wore black pants and red shirt every tournament I played when I was a junior because of him. I use an interlocking grip because I saw a picture of him when I was a kid following through and he had an interlocking group and that was the day I started using interlocking and I've done it ever since.

It's cool to say he's a friend now. We have a great friendship, and I'm very lucky and I cherish that. He's definitely I would say somewhat of a mentor for me. I mean, I like to ask him questions. I like to ask a lot of guys questions, though. It's not like I just am picking on him or use him.

I'll ask Jordan something. I'll ask Rickie something. I asked Phil a lot of stuff when I was first starting, Davis Love, Mr. Nicklaus, anybody that I can feel like I can get information that's going to benefit me or help me, I'm going to ask them.

I can always choose it not use it or feel if it's not helpful, then I just won't use it going forward, but yeah, it's been really cool.

Q. What's it been like to see him on the other side?
JUSTIN THOMAS: It's great. I hope he continues to play for a while. I don't know what kind of timeframe he wants or is looking at, but you know, play pain-free and be able to play some seasons out here. We're all happy to have him back. He's happy to be back.

But I know, and all you guys know, what he's out here for and what he wants. So it would be really cool for me especially to be battling it down the stretch with him in some tournaments. That would be pretty sweet.

Q. Would you let him win?
JUSTIN THOMAS: No. Absolutely not.

Q. Any surprise at all given the lack of competition to see his name on the board at Augusta?
JUSTIN THOMAS: No, especially Augusta. I think if he's pain-free, I think he could go four months not playing golf and he would be able to get around that place making the cut. Phil, Freddie, Larry Mize, you look at those guys, their names are somehow -- I shouldn't say Phil as much anymore, but their names are just always up there, Bernhard Langer.

So those guys, they continue to play so well just because it's a place that the more you play it, the more you're going to learn and the more you're going to benefit from it.

AMANDA HERRINGTON: Thank you for your time and we've got Rickie Fowler in the back taking pictures.

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