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April 3, 2018
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, it's a great pleasure to welcome Justin Thomas back to Augusta as he competes in his third Masters tournament this week.
Justin I want to thank you for joining us this morning. It's really a tremendous understatement to say you've had a stellar season in 2017. Five Tour wins, PGA Championship, FedExCup, and now followed by even more success this year as you get off to a great start with two wins in 2018. An impressive start, indeed.
This week will be your first Major Championship since Quail Hollow, and I'm curious to know: How does having your first Major Championship under your belt set you up, and what's the impact as you're going into this week?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, it's big for, first and foremost, just the confidence standpoint. 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, so I was glad to get that over with as quick as I could.
But it's just more than anything when I get in those scenarios or when I have a chance to win a big tournament or any tournament, 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 that I had, and just try to kind of learn from that and use it to my advantage.
THE MODERATOR: Great. So now that you're entering your third Masters tournament, how does that prepare you, and also what is your assessment in terms of what it takes to be successful this week?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Well, Augusta's‑‑ man, I love this place so much. It's a great, great golf course. It's just requires a very strong mental week. You need to be mentally sharp. You need to not make any stupid mistakes out there. If you get in trouble, make sure you get out and take advantage of the opportunities that you have.
But more than anything, it's a long week. This is a tough course to walk. It's tiring, and just getting rest is more‑‑ has been very kind of a big key for me. I'm trying to keep my practice sessions short, these practice days short but efficient and go out and see some of the golf course and get some touch and feel around the greens. Just try to be as ready as I can.
THE MODERATOR: That's great. Thank you. At this time we'll open it up to the media for any questions that you might have for Justin.
Q. Your first year you had a lot of chances to win tournaments. Since then you've cashed those chances for the most part. What have you learned over the years about how to handle Sunday?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I've learned to ‑‑ obviously you want to try to win the tournament. That's the goal when you get around there, but just try not to win so much. I think I wanted it too bad for a while. I was pressing too hard. I was trying to make things happen early in the round when in reality basically every Sunday, when there's anywhere from five to ten people that have a chance to win, about five to seven of them are going to take themselves out of the tournament. And it's not the fact that they're bad players, it's just the fact that, I mean, you're not going to get ten players and all of them play great. It's just how it is.
I just have really‑‑ my dad's harped on me as well, just patience, patience, patience, and just really kind of waiting for something good to happen if nothing good is happening. I'm a big believer in whatever is meant to be is going to happen. If it is my week to win that week, it is. If not, there's not a whole lot I can do. But as long as I don't give any shots away and make any mental mistakes, then I gave all I could.
Q. Can you give an example of just how the difference in your confidence level now that you have won a Major versus coming here last year?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Well, I feel like my game's a lot better, most importantly. This is a place where I don't‑‑ it obviously helps to be very, very sharp. I mean, it helps at any course, but if you know how to get around here, you don't need to be on your AA game to contend. You just need to be smart and kind of pick your way around.
So I think that I've gotten better at that at any golf course. I know early in the week or I know when I'm starting my round if I'm not playing well that when I have a 6‑, 7‑, 8‑iron in my hands, I probably shouldn't be trying to make birdie.
So that's unfortunately come with experience and some instances where I've made a lot of bogeys when I haven't been playing well. So I think learning that in the past Majors, the past Masters here, that you just kind of need to assess where your game is at and then you can kind of pick‑‑ maybe adjust your game plan a little bit, if a that makes sense.
Q. Have you had a chance to pick anybody's brain like Jack Nicklaus at Bear's Club or anything like that? Any specific examples?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I have plenty of examples. I'm not going to share them because he told me and I don't really want anybody else to know them. But, yeah, I talked to quite a few people.
Q. You mentioned the mental challenge of competing here at Augusta. Can you expound on that? A lot of players mentioned how mentally tough it is. Can you talk about what that is or maybe even an example of what a mental mistake might look like?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Actually I heard a pretty funny story about that. The last two years, my only two Masters, it's been pretty brutal in terms of the wind. It's been very, very difficult. The cut has been pretty substantial over par.
So unfortunately I know that because I was around it. But it's just‑‑ it's so hard and you really, really cannot short‑sight yourself. Especially when it's not windy, but let alone when it is windy and you're going to be making some bogeys and‑‑ or you're not going to be making as many birdies.
So last year Jimmy and I were just really‑‑ I kind of before every tournament or on Wednesday we'll text a little bit or that, going to the tee I'm like, you know, this is a tough day today. We just need to really make sure we do this. Or, Jimmy, I'm not hitting it very well today, we really need to make sure that we're playing smart today. Or I'm on today, let's be aggressive, whatever it may be.
So we're going into the first tee last year, it's just howling wind, I mean, it's blowing a good 25 miles an hour. And first hole's dead into the wind. I think it was in off the right‑‑ or in off the left and I hit a great drive, the pin's back right and, I mean, just a brutal pin, and as we're going there I'm like no short sides. This whole week we cannot short side ourself. It's just at least a bogey, we just can't do that. And the pin's in the back right and I just hit this beautiful 6‑iron trying to hit it to the middle of the green and I just hit it right through the wind and I fly the green first hole and I'm like, well, that lasted long, we made it all of two shots, so for our game plan.
So it's just little things like that where in other courses and other tournaments you can get away with stuff like that, but you just cannot get away with it here. You'll see some crazy up‑and‑downs every once in a while, but you're just not going to see the amount of up‑and‑downs from short sides that you are on other golf courses. It's just so, so important here.
Q. Is it possible to play around without a mistake? And if it is, is it possible to play four rounds here without a mistake?
JUSTIN THOMAS: You mean without a bogey or without a‑‑
Q. What do you classify as a mistake, a mental mistake?
JUSTIN THOMAS: A mental mistake. You're going to hit bad shots. There's‑‑ I don't care who you are, I mean, the stories and myths of people never miss‑hitting shots, I'm just not buying it. I classify myself as a pretty good ball‑striker, and you watch me hit some balls on the range or over the course of four days and I'm going to hit some pretty iffy shots.
But to me a mistake is when you're not committed to a shot and you hit it anyway or you're not committed to a read on a putt and you hit it anyway or you want to get a little bit greedy on a shot that you shouldn't and then you make that mistake. That to me is a mistake.
I definitely think that you can go four days without a mistake, it's very difficult. Over the course of four rounds and five‑hour rounds, whatever it may be, it's easy to just kind of get lazy on one shot, just maybe not look at the wind or just you're over the ball on 12 and you feel the wind kind of come into you and you try to press it a little bit instead of backing off and it gets ballooned and goes in the water and you make five or six.
So it's just little things like that where, I mean you can't afford realistically to do it at any tournament or you shouldn't, but definitely not here.
Q. The course where you won in Florida a little earlier this year has a name for a trio of its holes, of course. The trio of holes here got its name 60 years ago, Amen Corner, of course. As a player, how would you try to describe the atmosphere when you get down in that corner of the course?
JUSTIN THOMAS: It's one of the many just unbelievable kind of‑‑ I don't know what you want to call it, just one of the many great spots on this golf course and this tournament. I think of down on 2 green or 15 green, kind of around 16 green, 6, it's just you get those kind of pockets where you're just surrounded, whether it's trees or gallery where it's almost like it vibrates and everything, it's so loud. 11 you're just trying to make par pretty much 95 percent of the time. Then that 12th hole is hard enough as it is or it can be with the wind.
So it's just they're great holes in terms of anything can happen. We have seen that over the years. But it's just a special, special stretch of holes that are maybe even more special with the gallery that's there, for sure.
Q. When you were younger and growing up playing golf, do you have a favorite memory like watching the Masters? Did you have a favorite player or a favorite‑‑ what are some things that when you were just watching this tournament that you remember staying with you?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Tiger has always been my favorite growing up. I was, I mean, I guess you could say getting serious into golf, eight, nine years old, ten years old, when he was in his heyday, when he was winning about every other tournament he played in.
So, I mean, any kid, that's pretty fun to watch. You want to be like him. So, I mean, his Masters moments here are pretty endless, so can you kind of pick and choose one, but the chip in is definitely the one that I would say that sits with everybody.
But I remember for me it was pretty‑‑ it was a huge heartbreak, but Kenny Perry almost winning here, being a Kentucky boy. Kenny's been maybe one of the nicest guys, probably is the nicest guy you'll ever meet, ever be around, that I've ever met. How supportive he was to me when I was a rookie and how willing he was to play practice rounds with me, talk to me, I mean, he'll still text me if I ever play well or do well in a tournament.
But I remember I was coming back from the Terra Cotta Amateur and I think I was, I don't know, 16 or something like that, and we happened to get on the plane as the playoff was starting. So we took off and not knowing what happened, and I remember we landed and found out that he didn't win and we were‑‑ my mom and I were heartbroken. So that's an unfortunate memory that stands out for me.
Q. You played nine holes with Tiger yesterday, right? I was curious, when you're playing your practice round like that, if you even take note of somebody else's game? Do you take mental notes or try to engage him in conversation to pick up tidbits on the course?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I think that Tiger's probably going to be a little bit more‑‑ a little harder to get stuff out of than he was when he was hurt when I was asking him questions. He's kind of made hints at that, but I just‑‑ I mean, a place like this, I'm going to choose learning experience over my normal people I play practice rounds with. I'm not going to ‑‑ I don't care what they say to me, how much grief they're going to give me, if I could, if it would have worked out, I would have played with those two all three days. It just didn't work out this morning, and I'm not sure what we're doing tomorrow.
But any opportunity that I have to learn around this golf course. I mean, I played with Phil a handful of times on off weeks around here, and I'll ask him little questions. I mean, he's not a player, but Jeff Knox, I've asked him, he probably gets annoyed with me I asked him so many questions.
But it's just that like any place it's important to learn things, but there's a reason Freddie Couples has made the cut every time he plays, most of the times he plays here or has contended as many times as he has played here and not other places. It's just ‑‑ so I pretty much would just kind of watch where they were chipping and putting from an when they were done I would just take my balls and I would go do the same stuff. They know what they're doing out here so either they were messing with me and I just hit a lot of unproductive shots or hopefully I learned some stuff.
Q. I was going to ask you, what will you tell yourself to temper your nerves here? What do you tell yourself to calm down particularly at this event?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Everybody has different ways of dealing with it and coping with it, and I think that that's something that‑‑ I'm trying to think the right way to say it, that is maybe labeled improperly with people, because I feel like the outside watches every golfer and they think that we should all act the same and people forget that we're still people.
It's like, I mean, you're not going to act the same way that somebody else acts when something goes wrong. One person may get a little bit more upset than the other, it's just human nature, it's how we are. I've always been one that I verbalize things with Jimmy, and I‑‑ if I'm upset, I'll say some things to him, not necessarily toward him or aggressive, but I just‑‑ I need to get it out. And then once it's out, it's done.
And that's just how I deal with it and how I have dealt with it. If I keep it in and show no emotion we have messed with that before and I tried that, and it doesn't go very well for me. I look like a robot out there. And obviously you want to stay here, but in terms of just when I try to show no facial expression and just go about my business and do nothing, I'm‑‑ I don't think I'm a very fun person.
So I want to continue to be me, but at the same time, as you said, with this week just managing it well and make sure that I don't let any reaction that I may have affect the next golf shot.
Q. Growing up and looking back on growing up, how much did your dad emphasize technique and also the mental game, and what things do you remember from each?
JUSTIN THOMAS: The mental game he'll tell you we have had quite, quite a few discussions when I was a junior golfer about my attitude. I was a fiery kid, 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 like to think that I don't now or I would hope that I don't.
So he just‑‑ we 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. So we have had a lot of talks about that, and continue to, to make sure that I'm‑‑ not only to better my golf game, but to be a better role model, to be a better person that kids and other players look up to and I just never want to make a bad impression on anybody.
But in terms of technique, yeah, we have always kept it very simple, but the routine is something we‑‑ he probably harped on me pretty heavily as I was starting. I watched a lot of golf, he watched a lot of golf, so we did that together. And yeah, I feel like I don't remember a lot of specifics, but I feel like I remember him saying like watch him and how he does the same thing every time, and I've done moderations of it, but I've always taken two swings before I hit. Sometimes when I'm playing well, it's pretty basically just waggles. Sometimes if I'm really trying to feel a shot, I'll take bigger swings, but it's always some form of variation of two swings. I don't know when and how that started, but, yeah, I guess that's started a long time ago.
Q. Have you come to practice the course in these 12 months?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Pardon me?
Q. Have you come to practice the course in these last 12 months?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I came last week on Monday and Tuesday and played 18 on Monday and 18 on Tuesday.
Q. You had known Jordan about a decade when he turned up here and finished second, first and second. As someone who has known him so long, why is this place such a good fit for him?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Well, the thing about Jordan is he's always going to rise to the occasion. He's done it his whole life. I've been on the wrong side of it a couple times where he's beaten me and very, very big stages.
But I'm trying to gain some ground on him. I still got a lot of way to go, but I'm getting there. But a place like this, he just, he loves this tournament. All of us love this tournament, but he really, really loves this tournament. And Michael loves this tournament. Michael did his homework like he's never done around this place. I know he‑‑ Carl probably wants to throw his phone anytime he gets a phone call from Michael he's probably talked to him so many times. And they just‑‑ they really took this week seriously. They had a game plan before kind of. That's kind of like what we did‑‑ or what I started to do this year or this week, is, you know, you get a game plan and you just do that. Each day you know what you're going to do, you're going to stick to that you're not going to change. If one person wants to go play another nine you want to play with or if someone wants to go play a game on Tuesday, it's like, no, guys, I'm doing this, this, and this.
But in terms of his game, his short game is so good that he‑‑ that's why he plays, that's why he's such a good golfer in the first place, along with many other things, but around here if he's always leaving it in the right spots, he's going to get up‑and‑down most of the time. And it's proven to help him a lot.
Q. Tiger's obviously back this year. We don't know how he'll perform when it starts, but could you imagine competing when he was at his best, would you have relished that, and what would you have been able to compete against Tiger at his best do you think?
JUSTIN THOMAS: From the sounds of it, no. Anybody that played against him say that you don't want that. So I don't know, I can't win. If I say I want to play against him, I can't beat him; and then if I say that I don't want to play against him, they say that I'm backing down from a challenge. So I don't really know what to say.
No, I know he wants to make another run at us young guns. And I shouldn't say‑‑ I mean, some older guys have been winning lately, so I guess we need to try to get our little streak back. But, no, it's great for golf, it's great for him. I'm happy for him. I cherish the opportunity to potentially be going down the stretch with him to win a golf tournament or potentially a Major, so who knows. All I've done is watch it and enjoyed it. Maybe I wouldn't enjoy it so much if I was on the other end, but I guess we'll never know, or maybe I will.
Q. You made reference to the fact that you don't necessarily have to have your A‑plus game to contend here. I realize it doesn't work this way, but if you were given a choice between being as physically sharp as possible, golf ball striking and putting, or just being as mentally composed or sharp as you could be for four days, which would give you the best chance of winning?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Hmm, I'm going to choose the ball striking and putting because I think I can win a lot of tournaments if my ball striking and my putting is at A plus. Because I've never done that in a tournament before, so I would like my chances.
Q. You made the point earlier that you feel what a weight off your back having won a Major. Can you imagine the burden, extra burden of pressure of trying to complete the career Grand Slam here that Rory's going for?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I would like it a lot more than trying to one my second Major, that's for sure.
I think ‑‑ and I don't mean this in a disrespectful way, but I think it's harder‑‑ you guys think it's harder on us than it is. It's like, I mean, at the end of the day Rory's going to go home and how many Majors has he won? Five? Four? So it's like he's going to go home he's either going to be a four‑time Major winner or five‑time Major winner. That's still pretty good.
I know he wants to win a lot more, and he probably will win more, but‑‑ and especially a course like this that fits and sees his eye so well, I feel like that there's a pretty good chance he'll get it done at some point, especially as good as a player as he is.
But it's also hard for me to say because I don't know that pressure, but I feel like it's just hard to win a Major. It's hard to win a tournament in general. It's not like that the pressure is any harder just because it's to close something out type thing.
Q. At the Match Play you openly talked about becoming the No. 1 player in the world. How important is that to you and what would it mean?
JUSTIN THOMAS: It's very important to me. It's a huge goal of mine. But at the end of the day, if I just continue to play well and continue to be in contention to win tournaments and win tournaments, it's something I feel like that's going to take care of itself. And that's what I was a little upset with myself, that I got kind of wrapped up in last week, because I was playing my match to become No. 1 in the world instead of playing my match to have a chance to win the Tournament. And that's very immature of me. That's very not mentally strong. It's just unlike me. So that was frustrating.
But it is a huge deal, and when and if it's meant to be, and however long, that it will happen. So I just need to go out and try to play well this week.
Q. Because you won the last Major and you won twice this year already, do you consider yourself one of the favorites to win here?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I'll trust whatever Vegas says. So I don't know. They're pretty good.
THE MODERATOR: Justin Thomas, thank you so much for being with us. Good luck to you.
JUSTIN THOMAS: Thank you.
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