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July 16, 2019

Justin Thomas

Portrush, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

OLIVIA McMILLAN: It's my great pleasure to welcome Justin Thomas to the Media Centre. Thank you so much for joining us.

We've heard a little bit from you over the last couple of weeks about your love for links golf. What are your thoughts on Royal Portrush?

JUSTIN THOMAS: I love it. I mean, this is only my fourth Open, but I would say it's my favorite venue that I've been to thus far. It's a beautiful, beautiful course. I'm sure the weather has something to do with that, it's definitely helped.

But I feel that it's just a great test of golf. It has a little bit of everything. You're going to have some holes with some short irons, some holes with some long irons, great variety on the par-3s, but an opportunity for different setups.

But obviously barring the conditions, which is something you never know can happen, I think it's just a tremendous golf course.

Q. What do you think you're better at now that you weren't four years ago when you first started coming over?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I mean, I think I'm better at about -- oh, in links golf. I think just the understanding of how to play it. I know that it's very bland and broad, but just like last year I felt like I learned a lot on Friday because I kind of -- I had the same game plan on Friday when it was raining sideways and cold than I did when it was 65 and sunny.

There's bunkers that I easily could carry when it was fine or at least not even great out. But then when conditions get like that, I feel like I have to change my game plan or just attack holes differently. And I think that's something that it's taken me a couple of years to learn. Obviously I haven't done it too well. And I'm sure I haven't played as well in the past couple of years, too.

But I just think that understanding the situation and the weather that I'm playing in and the situation kind of thing and kind of reassessing where I'm at versus just in the States I'm going to hit a driver off this hole no matter what. It's just a matter of if I'm going to go up the left side of the fairway or if the wind is off the right then I'm going to the right side of the fairway. Here it's a different golf course and different hole. You just have to take it differently.

Q. Last year when you left you said you'll figure this tournament out eventually. Is it a matter of your approach shot by shot or did you hit certain things that you wouldn't have to hit in certain tournaments than you would to feel more prepared?
JUSTIN THOMAS: That's a good question. I don't think -- I didn't do anything in my preparation, like I wasn't hitting lower shots when I was home or chipping with different clubs. I try to take it like I do every other week. I have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to get accustomed to the greens, to get accustomed around the greens.

But I also played the Scottish last week to where I don't feel like I have to do as much yesterday, today, and tomorrow to get prepared for this week.

So I would just say it's more kind of like I was saying earlier, just kind of getting my mind in the right frame of mind or state of mind.

Just in the past I think it's just been poor execution in some spots, but also the weather and the draws that I've been in haven't exactly been ideal. But I understand over a long career that stuff is going to happen and hopefully it will even out or get in my favour sometime. But that's just a part of The Open Championship.

Q. We're sort of coming to the end of the major season now under this new schedule.
JUSTIN THOMAS: Sort of? We are at the end of it.

Q. What do you think the biggest impact of the new schedule has been now that you've been sort of through it to this point from a player's standpoint in terms of playing, preparing, scheduling? Like, what's been the most noticeable impact for you?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I'm probably not the best person to ask for that since I unfortunately had about a month and a half off. But I really do think it's going to take everybody two to three years to find their groove. I mean, before this year I would say you could probably get 40 or 50 guys in a room and they could tell you their schedule before the season even started, myself included. Maybe one tournament here or there, depending on if you want to add whatever it might be.

But I think it's going to take a couple of years for everyone to figure out what kind of works for them and getting ready for the majors or playing in other events that maybe they didn't have the opportunity to in previous years.

But it's been fine. Obviously I would have liked to have played a little bit more, a couple more events. Everyone's had to deal with the schedule change and trying to figure it out. But like anything, you get used to it.

Q. Unrelated, have you ever tried anything like a six-day fast, like the one Phil Mickelson just went on? And is there any amount of struggles that would convince you to try that?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I feel like I've got to be careful what I say here. No, I haven't. I enjoy food way too much, and I get way too angry if I don't eat.

But fortunately for Phil, he's in an age where he's tried a lot more things than I have. Sometimes you have to try different things for them to work. So maybe it will work for him. Obviously he thinks it's going to give him an advantage or he wouldn't try it. But that's not for me.

Q. Can you take on a lot of the off the tee ^ and try to cut corners, or with the rough being as thick, is it more of a placement course where guys are hitting to a lot of the same spots?
JUSTIN THOMAS: You know, I think it's why this course is so well designed. The last couple have been very similar but you really can do anything. I mean, even a hole like 1, do you want to hit driver and take it past every bunker or do you want hit 3-wood and kind of fit it in between them or do you want to hit a 4-iron and keep it short? You have the opportunity to do what you want.

The rough is spotty. Some holes are worse than others and some spots are worse than others. There's some holes where one side is better than the other, and we know that to where if I'm going to hit driver, maybe just kind of lean toward the side a little bit.

But it's very, very dependent on the wind. I hit a lot of drivers yesterday with the wind direction we had, and I drove it beautifully and had a lot of scoring opportunities. Obviously it was very, very nice outside and not very much wind.

Kind of like I said earlier, I just think that you kind of have to take the hole and the course for what it is with the wind conditions that you have and the severity of the wind. It's hard to say.

I think when it's nice outside you'll find guys hitting a lot of drivers because it is a golf course I feel like you kind of need to play from the air a little bit coming into the greens. You don't have as much opportunity to run it up there. But that being said, if we get some tough conditions you're going to need to make a lot of pars, so you're going to need to be in the fairway.

Q. JT, everyone is talking about this Northern Ireland hospitality and enthusiasm. How welcoming have guys like G-Mac and Rory or Darren Clarke been to you, whether it's sharing advice, tips, local knowledge, as they also try to protect their home turf at the same time?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Guys like G-Mac and Darren I know well, but it's not like I'm texting them a couple of times a week on an ordinary week. So I think that would be a little weird if I decided to now.

They're getting pulled so many different directions this week and prior weeks coming up to here to where I'm kind of letting them do their thing. I'm going to try to play with Rory, I think we're going to try to play tomorrow.

But I asked him about a month and a half ago or so, because I knew that he was probably getting the same thing, getting pulled a lot of different directions and getting asked to play. Rory is someone I'm a little bit closer with and play a lot of practice rounds with. I'm sure he'll give some advice but kind of hold it somewhat within, not wanting to give too much.

But at the end of the day, no matter how much local knowledge you have, you still have to hit the golf shot.

Q. How much will you learn from observing Rory tomorrow?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I hope to learn a lot. But the thing is, I played with Charley Hoffman yesterday, we played, the three of us, and Jake [McLeod], I forget his last name from Australia, but even if you don't play with someone that's from here, it's just playing I think with three -- two or three guys, and just seeing where all the golf balls go. Paying attention to every shot everybody hits, seeing where they come down, and seeing where they end up.

It doesn't necessarily need to be somebody from here. The ball is going to go where it's going to go, whether you hit it or I hit it. If it lands a certain distance and comes down in a certain spot, just seeing where they go. At different distances, everybody hits at different distances.

For me it's been helpful the last couple of days just playing with a lot of guys and just seeing in different spots they get it in and if there's a tendency, a ball seems to feed here or on the greens or in the fairways. That's been helpful for me.

Q. Since the PGA of America chose not to give you an exemption the first time around, can you try to imagine what it will be like when it goes back to Valhalla in '24? And is there anything you can possibly relate to what Rory and G-Mac might go through this week?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I definitely can't relate to anything. I would say the closest I could get would be a Ryder Cup at Valhalla. They're playing for their country. Obviously we're playing the U.S. Open, we're playing whatever, for the United States of America. But where they grew up, it's different. I don't need to explain it.

But it will be great going to the PGA at Valhalla. It would be nice -- it will be the only time I can ever play in front of my home city, my home crowd. Usually the Memorial is the closest I can get, depending on certain situations, majors or different events that get closer, Indiana or something like that.

But it will be great and I'm sure they're excited for this week. And I can't imagine what they feel, what they're going to feel going to that first tee, coming up that 18th green. I'm sure their roars will be quite known across the golf course.

Q. Is there a tendency to try too hard?
JUSTIN THOMAS: You could definitely see that. But the good thing for all three of them is they're all veterans and they've been in situations that are very difficult in the past to where they know how to handle it.

But that being said, I can't really compare anything to playing in front of your home country, where you grew up and a golf course you've played a million times. It's a great experience and I'm sure they'll handle it very, very well. And I know they're very excited for the week.

Q. Nine out of the last ten majors have been won by Americans, and this could be the first time in a long time the U.S. goes four for four in a single calendar year. Is there anything that you can point to that might explain that recent trend?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Nothing I can really think of, to be honest. I know you're looking for an explanation but I really can't -- I don't know. That's cool. I didn't know that, though.

Q. Just referring back to the Northern Ireland issue, before you came here did you appreciate, I'm not sure how often you've been here before, what a big deal The Open is coming back here? And have you had an experience that sort of reinforced that this week that you realize everyone is so into it?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I had somewhat of an idea but I think I probably don't respect it or understand it enough. That could just be with my age, though, as well. I'm sure -- or just not being from here. I think it's, what, it's been how many years? 68 years. That's unbelievable. Just to have to come back to Northern Ireland.

I played Royal County Down for the Palmer Cup. Obviously quite a different setting, but still huge crowds, very, very supportive golf fans. I've really enjoyed coming to play the few European Tour events I have and The Open Championship. It's just cool because you feel so gracious to be here. Everyone is, Thanks for coming here. Like what else would I do? It's The Open Championship. What, am I going to skip it?

Last week, everyone was great at the French Open, everyone was thanking me for being there, and asking how I'm enjoying it and just being nice. It is cool. We obviously get plenty of treatment like that in the States, as well. But the fact of coming over here as little or not as often is what makes it a little more special.

But the fans are always great over here. It's going to be a great week. I don't know what to expect but I also have an idea of what might the crowds be like the first couple of days. It will probably be pretty berserk out there but a lot of fun.

Q. You mentioned Rory. Do you feel he's going to be the man to beat in this tournament? And those crowds you just touched on there, do you think they could be quite inspiring to him?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I mean, Rory's going to be hard to beat because he's Rory McIlroy. It's not because we're playing Royal Portrush. He's one of the best players in the world. He's won a lot of times, won a lot of majors. He's really, really good at golf. He's going to be really hard to beat because of that, not just because we're here.

There's just a lot of things that go into it. It doesn't matter how many times you've played a golf course and how many times you've seen it, you still have to hit the shots and execute and make the putts when you need to. And you need to get the breaks. That's the stuff that happens when you win golf tournaments.

But obviously I'm sure he's the favorite, if you're looking stuff up, or whatever it might be. I know there's a lot of people, myself included, that feel like they have a good chance and want to give him a run.

Q. Just going to a place not a lot of people have been, did you do any homework at home like hopping on Google or YouTube or watching videos?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I tried to watch some videos. I couldn't find very much. Even though it's been -- 2012 the Irish Open was here, even in seven years how much the technology has changed or just how less video.

Now I feel like you can see every shot of every -- not every person, but a lot of people throughout the tournament. Whereas there wasn't quite as much information. The course has changed a little bit.

I've watched a little bit. Stuff on YouTube. Especially when I have the sleepless nights and mornings of doing nothing, you get bored pretty quickly.

Last week playing, I just was trying to get accustomed to the time and the different style of golf and just trying to get my game in a good spot.

Q. Was anything helpful?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Not really, to be honest. I'm kind of a golf nerd in terms of watching old videos and just stuff, I don't know. I think it's fun sometimes to watch -- I mean, actually a couple of nights ago watched I think '13 at Muirfield, Phil when he won. I don't remember everything and all the details. But it's just kind of cool to watch how they did it and if you do pick up on anything.

There wasn't anything that really stood out of the guys or the videos that I watched. I remember seeing some pretty nasty conditions on some videos, that's for sure.

Q. How did you play the 17 in practice? How might you approach it during the week, and whether you feel that's a hole that's obviously very birdie-able?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, it depends on the wind direction. Yesterday I had driver, about 30 yards from the green. So that's a very easy hole. But if you get it off line, if you get it in that left bunker, depending on the lie, you can probably get it to the front of the green or on the green. If you hit it in the right fescue it's a crap shoot on if you get a good lie or not.

I think the dominant wind is in and off to the right there, I want to say. So if we get a strong wind, not being able to get down that hill, that changes that hole drastically. You're hitting your second shot from a hundred, anywhere from 120 to 160, huge elevation into the wind. It's going to be tough to control it.

If it's downwind, it's going to be a hole that will play under par. If it's into the wind it could be a hole where 4 is a good score. I guess you just have to wait to see on the wind direction.

Q. I don't know how much time you spent with Furyk in the last four or five months, but for a guy at 49 to qualify for three of the majors and two WGCs, and hits it as far as he does, how do you think he does it?
JUSTIN THOMAS: The thing, I played a whopping two holes with him today, but it was good. Game looks great. He knows what he's good at. And he plays to that. If he's got to get the ball in the fairway, he'll tee it low, hit a low draw and he's going to hit the fairway. And he knows his yardages. He knows how to control his distance.

He's so good around the greens. He doesn't try to play -- he plays within himself. He doesn't try to do anything he knows he can't do. And I think that's something that comes with age, comes with experience. Where I know for sure in the past I've maybe stepped up to a tee and maybe I don't like this off the left wind but I feel like I can turn a driver against it, and I don't and maybe hit it out of bounds and make a 7. He's like, Hey, I don't like that wind, I'm going to hit a 3-wood over here, and hit it in front of the green and get it up and down, and beats me by three on the hole.

Especially at Open championships where you've got to keep it on the ground sometimes and kind of pick your spots, it's just -- that's what he's good at. He sticks to his game plan, he knows what he's doing. He knows what his golf ball is going to do and he definitely believes in it, as he should, because it's been very successful.

OLIVIA McMILLAN: Thank you very much for your time today. And best of luck this week.


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