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June 12, 2018
Southampton, New York
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome again to the 2018 U.S. Open Championship at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
It's my pleasure to welcome Justin Thomas to the interview room this afternoon. Justin is playing in his fourth U.S. Open, had a top-ten finish a year ago, when he very memorably recorded a Championship tying record 63 in Saturday's third round.
Justin, you said you've been here for a few days and played a few rounds. Can you give us some initial thoughts on Shinnecock and the test that you'll face this week?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I think it's -- Shinnecock Hills kind of speaks for itself. Just when you say that name, you think of U.S. Open. You think of extremely difficult.
I didn't go out and play the last two days, but from where the course was on Sunday, it seems like the USGA has the course exactly where they would want it. It was in great condition on Sunday, and I'm sure with the weather they've gotten the last two days, it's gotten nothing but better.
THE MODERATOR: After that 63 in the great run you had at the U.S. Open last year, you went on to win the PGA Championship, won the FedExCup, PGA Tour Player of the Year honors. Talk about what it's like coming into this season and the U.S. Open, coming off a run like that, coming in as a Major champion.
JUSTIN THOMAS: It's a little different, but it all goes by so fast, it's hard to sit back and think too much about what else has gone on. All I'm trying to do is just get myself as prepared as I can every week I play and get the proper amount of rest that I can every week, when I'm off and not playing. So when I get to weeks like this, I feel that I'm as ready as I can be.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it to questions.
Q. Justin, two of the big themes this week are, obviously, Tiger playing back for the first time since '15 and trying to win his first Major in ten years and Phil trying to complete the Grand Slam. I wonder, out of each of those, which one do you think might be the more remarkable achievement, if you had an opinion on that? Just in terms of -- you can speak of both of them, actually, too.
JUSTIN THOMAS: You're saying if either one of them were to win? Yeah, I mean, you're comparing Cadillacs there, you know. It's not -- they're both pretty -- it would be unbelievable achievements.
I mean, obviously, for Phil to complete the Grand Slam would be tremendous. And then, you know, if and when Tiger does win more Majors, it's just another Major. So they both would be -- it's hard to compare and say one would be better than the other. I think you just would have to recognize greatness if either one of them happened type thing.
Q. Justin, I know you were fulfilled to become No. 1 in the world, but you play one tournament, and you lose that top spot. What were the emotions after that? And how much of a motivating factor is getting back to No. 1?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I think -- I don't know. It didn't -- I mean, it didn't affect me, or it wasn't that hard on me because I couldn't do anything about it. I wasn't playing. I played one tournament and had a good tournament, finished eighth. And D.J. won, so it's not like he didn't play well and didn't earn it or anything. He won a golf tournament and a great tournament. So there's nothing I can be upset about for that.
I saw something that was just hysterical on social media, how a lot of the times, you know, when teams or players or whatever it is go on long runs, like the last time this happened, like -- I mean, a little biased, but often a scenario is last time Tennessee beat Alabama in football, you know, like iPhones weren't alive yet and stuff like that. I saw something so funny yesterday. It was like the last time that I wasn't ranked No. 1 in the world, and it was like Ovechkin didn't have a Stanley Cup and Rickie wasn't engaged. That was it. I thought it was pretty funny, whoever came up with that.
It is what it is. He won. He deserves it for the time being, and I just have to continue to do what I'm doing.
Q. Justin, I know that you put a new driver in the bag this week. How is it different or better than what you were playing, and when did you make the decision to put it in the bag?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I first tested it at The PLAYERS. We were able to do some testing off-site and hit some balls with it. I mean, I like the feel of it. Kind of tweaked it a little bit to get a little bit different feel off the club to kind of get it exactly where I wanted. Has a little bit more spin, which is good for me.
I don't exactly -- don't exactly hit the ball with the driver the same way that I used to. It's a little bit not quite as much up on it, a little bit more shallow, just for accuracy, from an accuracy standpoint.
But it just gives me that little bit of the ball staying in the air, and I'm able to control it a little bit more, at least that's what I've noticed in the last couple weeks. It's a little bit faster, which is always good. Titleist does such a great job of making tremendous equipment, and every time they come out with something new, it's always such an easy transition.
So it's pretty much, when it's new irons, new woods, whatever it may be, I just go through a little session with the guys, and they'll get the right shaft and the right loft I need, and I pretty much put it in play that week.
So it was definitely an easy adjustment, and hopefully it will pay off well this week.
Q. Justin, have you heard any minor quibbles about the course setup this week, or has it been 100 percent positive?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I mean, it's hard to complain about a course setup on a Monday because you're not really playing the course. So I haven't heard any complaints in terms of that. I mean, I haven't really heard any complaints. I didn't play out here yesterday. I just practiced today.
But, again, you know, someone would really need to be searching if they're going to complain how the golf course is set up on a Monday practice round. So I haven't heard anything.
Like I said, on Sunday, the course was in great condition, and it wasn't soft, but it definitely wasn't firm to where three days of sunshine and wind, you know, could get it about what they would want for a U.S. Open, I would think.
Q. Justin, with Father's Day being Sunday, what's the maybe fondest golf story or memory that you've shared with your dad throughout your life?
JUSTIN THOMAS: The fondest memory that I have is just seeing him off 18th green at the PGA and giving him a hug. I mean, I've said it before, still the only video that kind of gets me a little choked up every time I see it. It's just something that we worked at a really, really, really long time, since I was 5, 6 years old, before I even knew that we were working or just out having fun. The amount of fun rounds of golf I've had with him and memories on the golf course I've had with him.
I would like to replace that with a memory in about six days. But for the time being, it's that one.
Q. So much of the conversation is about coming back to a more traditional looking U.S. Open. Do you ever get a sense at all that, when people refer to Erin Hills and Brooks that it was a bomber's paradise, you could hit it anywhere, fairways were so wide, and maybe he's not getting as much due for the way he played during the week?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I just think, when you look at low scores and how people talk about, you know, this isn't what we want, this and that, people forget the fact that it poured rain that week. It's the same thing as these fairways. If these fairway, just like Erin Hills, if they're firm, their width turns into half of what they are.
You take a hole like -- trying to think of a good hole last year. Take a hole like 17. It's a relatively tough drive at Erin Hills, the dogleg left, a hard hole. If that fairway is firm, you have to hit a draw there to hold that fairway and that slope, whereas when it's soft, you just need to land it in the fairway.
It's the same with out here, you get a hole like No. 3, where, again, that's one of the harder drives on the course. But that being said, if you're not comfortable -- like for me if I'm not comfortable, I'd try to hit a cut, and I can just kind of slap a cut up there, and if it lands soft, it stays in the fairway. If the fairways are firm, a cut is not going to hold that fairway.
I think that just completely gets overshadowed by the fact that people are like, oh, you know, he shot so much under par, it was soft, this and that. Well, he beat the brains out of everybody else pretty good, and he won a U.S. Open, and it doesn't matter what the conditions are and what the golf course is.
I mean, the fact that he won a Major Championship by however many shots he did, heck, I would have no problem with anybody saying that about me if I won every Major. So I think you have to take it for what it's worth.
Q. In your mind, how are you similar to D.J.?
JUSTIN THOMAS: How am I similar to D.J.?
Q. If at all.
JUSTIN THOMAS: I mean, we both hit it kind of far, I guess. I mean, our games are different. Yeah, I'd say that's about it.
Q. So how are you different?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I mean, our ball flights are different. We have different putting strokes. We have different swings. Totally different body types. He's more athletic than I am. He's more flexible. He's stronger than I am. He's won more times than I have.
Q. (No microphone)?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I mean, we have different personalities. We're different ages. He has a family. I don't. I mean, I could sit here and go on and on if you want, but I think you get the picture.
Q. (No microphone).
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, we're both alums.
Q. Just to follow up on what you said before about the Father's Day theme, what was it about your dad that inspired you to want to do what he did with your life?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Well, no disrespect to my dad, but I didn't want to do what he did. I mean, I wanted to play on the PGA Tour. He played -- I didn't -- I like the fact that he was a golf pro, and it was cool. I mean, I wanted to be like my dad when I was young, the fact that he played golf.
But in terms of the similarities, I mean, it's hard -- after watching it firsthand, I understand why it is such a big deal for the club pros getting in this tournament. The fact that they're able to play well enough for the amount of hours they have to work for their pro shop and their club, it's pretty unbelievable, especially if they're able to come here and make the cut.
My dad just put in so many hours that he wasn't able to put in the proper amount of work for him to truly pursue a career, I would say.
But I just wanted to be like him as, you know, a 3, 4, 5, 6, 7-year-old because I think a lot of little boys want to be like their dad in terms of golf. I had aspirations a little higher than just -- than having it end in a pro shop because I wanted to keep -- you know, continue to go up.
Q. You talked about having more speed with your new club?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Pardon me?
Q. You talked about having more speed with your new club?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Oh, with the driver?
Q. Yes. Do you know how much speed you will have with this driver?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I mean, it's roughly a couple miles an hour faster. So it's anywhere from 176, 177, to low 180 mile an hour ball speed. I mean, it's nothing monumental. It's nothing that you guys will be watching me and noticing a difference, but it's a little bit faster.
Q. As much as you watched your dad growing up, if you had chosen to become a club professional, what do you think your strengths and weaknesses would have been?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I feel like I'm pretty good with people. I mean, I get along with a lot of people. I enjoy meeting new people and making new friends. So, I mean, that's something my dad's very good at is just talking. Being a club pro, you obviously have to converse with everybody, so I would like to think I would have been pretty good at that.
The things I wouldn't have been good at, probably not being able to play golf as much as I would have liked. I mean, my patience level. Maybe some of the requests I would have gotten from certain members here or there may not have settled too well with me. So hopefully, I wouldn't have snapped, but judging how I've handled some things in the past with some of my friends, maybe I wouldn't have.
But I'm sure -- I know he has and continues to handle it better than I probably would have.
Q. Justin, backstopping seemed to become a phenomenon once again over the weekend. I'm curious your thoughts on that trend and if you think it's something that the Tour needs to eventually look at.
JUSTIN THOMAS: I don't. There's really nothing for me to say because no matter what, it's going to be the wrong side. So I'd rather not just get into it.
Q. I know the PGA's relatively fresh for you in terms of winning a Major, but what's the perception of level like, do you think, amongst you guys, the difference between winning one Major and being a multiple Major champion?
I know you want to win this week, for example, but there seems to be a lot of guys right now with one, very talented players right now. And if there's any type of an urgency to get the next one.
JUSTIN THOMAS: It definitely is a big difference. I mean, absolutely zero, no disrespect to guys that have won one, obviously myself included, but it's a lot easier to get hot one week than it is to do it again and win another Major, you know.
Because, like you said, when you are a Major champion, you have more -- you have more asked of you. You have more expectations on yourself, more expectations from other people to where, if you do get in the hunt, then you're asked, you know, how is it going to feel to get your second Major? Then you're constantly reminded of that.
So you could make an argument that it could be harder to get the second one than it is the first because then after that, it's like, you know -- but I guess you could play devil's advocate. You could make an argument that every Major is the hardest.
But I just think that to be known as a multiple time Major champion as opposed to he won the PGA, at least to me, it has a little bit better ring to it. So I hope to have that to my name, sooner rather than later.
Q. Justin, I spent the last two days announcing on the 1st tee. We had the wind with us on the 1st tee, and it amazed me that probably 98 percent of the players hit 5 or 6 iron off that tee -- 4, 5, or 6. It surprised me because you guys could get so close to that green with that wind with you. And I didn't understand the thinking, why no one tried driver off that tee. Are you going to hit driver off the 1st tee?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I'm not, no. Unless somehow it gets -- if you get to a playoff to where I'm on the 1st hole and I need to make a hole-in-one to advance, then I'll be laying up. I mean, if the U.S. Open's going to give me a wedge from the middle of the fairway, I'm going to take a wedge from the middle of the fairway.
You could hit a great drive that takes a bad hop and goes up on the back side of the bunker and you can't hit it on the green, and then now you're scrambling to make par, whereas, I mean, the fairway with a 5 iron is just massive.
I mean, the wind changing does make it a little smaller or bigger, whatever it may be, but you just got to take advantage of your opportunities when you can. I feel like I have a very good wedge game, and if you give me 100 to 130 yards four straight days, I feel like I can sneak two, three birdies out of it.
Q. But I don't get a thrill out of watching that.
JUSTIN THOMAS: Then watch a different tournament (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: One more question.
Q. How much of your game is analytical versus natural? How much planning are you putting into things versus just getting out there and playing these days? How much planning is in your routine, or how much of it is just natural once you get out there?
JUSTIN THOMAS: It's a tough question. I think it just depends. I mean, myself and my team, we have a plan going into every week, like I had a plan last night of what I was going to do today. But you still -- I guess it's a little bit of both.
Once I'm getting out there, like I didn't putt as long as I would have thought that I was going to today. One, because there's a lot of people on the putting green. It's difficult to do things. But, two, I felt that I'd accomplished everything I needed to and I didn't need to spend more time, therefore, it was going become unproductive.
So it's really a plan, but you still just kind of have to go with it. I hit balls longer than I thought today because I was working some things on my swing and I needed to get the feels right to have it to where I wanted here and here and things like that.
So I don't know if that answered your question. It is a little bit of both, but I think it just kind of depends on what I'm going through at that time in my game.
Q. What do you think of the playoff format?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I just read about it at lunch. Two holes, right?
Q. (No microphone)?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I saw about three people say he didn't know. I'm like well, I'm glad I read this because I didn't know either.
Yeah, it's good. I mean, I think it's good for the U.S. Open and USGA. I mean, you're going to have a lot more people out here on Sunday than on Monday, I would think. So it's -- I don't know. I mean, if I have a chance to win the U.S. Open, I don't care if it's a two-hole playoff or a 72-hole tournament. I'll take a playoff right now.
Q. Justin, we know this course is playing a lot longer than in the past. Do you think to be a long hitter is going to be really important this week? Or do you think the course is playing just really hard and fast and probably is not going to matter as much as just putting it in the fairway?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Putting it in the fairway is definitely going to matter more than anything, but it's not playing -- at least when I played, it wasn't playing very fast by any means. It was good. You know, the ball would roll a little bit, but it's not like you're hitting 2 irons that are going 300 or anything. For that reason, I'm not using a 2 iron this week.
It's just not a place where you get the ball on the ground and it rolls forever. They had some good rain last week, and that's just how it is right now. If they continue to get the conditions they want or how firm they want to get the course, they can get it like that.
But, I mean, I would like to think I have an advantage if I drive it well, versus an average driving distance person. Hitting 8 or 9 irons into these greens, as opposed to 6 irons, is a big deal.
At the end of the day, like every U.S. Open, it's going to come down to just total control of your golf ball and minimize the mistakes.
Q. I assume you're not having traffic issues this week.
JUSTIN THOMAS: I have not, no. I'm staying on the correct side.
Q. Has there ever been a tournament, whether it was Rive or anywhere else, where you had to worry about that?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Believe it or not, this is actually a pretty funny story. In professional golf, no. The U.S. Amateur, actually, the first time Greller caddied for me when it was at Chambers Bay on the home course, I played the home course first, and there was an accident. It was a 25-minute drive, and there was a terrible, terrible accident. We couldn't get there. It was taking forever.
I usually got there an hour and a half or so beforehand. My mom's driving. It's ticking, ticking. It's like 45 minutes 'til my tee time. It's like what are we going to do? This is, I think it was 2010. So, I mean, it's like -- I don't know if maps was a thing on a phone yet. I don't know. But it was like I don't know how -- I don't think it was because I think we called the shop and were trying to figure out how to get there because to get to the exit we had to go, no way we were going to make it.
And I'll never forget. We saw -- it ended up being Jim Liu, but he was in the car in front of us, and he went on the side, and he just started driving. So we just got and followed him, and we went off the exit and we followed him.
And I'm calling Michael. Michael turned his phone off. So he's sitting there, never caddied for me in a competitive round ever, met me like three days ago, and he doesn't know where I am.
So we pull up. It's about 12 minutes to my tee time, and he's sitting there like is this what you do? What's going on? And I went out and hit about three balls and went to the tee. I think I shot like 3 under, something like that. 2 under.
That was the only -- knock on wood. The only scare I've had, and it was not fun.
THE MODERATOR: Good planning this week. Justin, thanks so much for joining us. Wish you well this week.
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