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March 10, 2020

Justin Thomas

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

AMANDA HERRINGTON: We'd like to welcome Justin Thomas to the interview room here at THE PLAYERS Championship. Justin is making his sixth start at THE PLAYERS Championship, comes into the week No. 2 in the FedExCup standings on the strength of two wins this season. Justin, get your thoughts on coming into the week here.

JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, it's a place I love. I love the golf course. I think it's just a very well-designed course, tee to green, forces you to work it both ways off the tee and into the green, and obviously it's an extremely deep field with all the top players here, so it's a tournament that when I first came here, I felt like I could have some success at this place, and yeah, came out and practiced yesterday. It seems to be in pristine shape as usual, so I'm excited to get out there today on the course and see how it is.

Q. You've had some really good low rounds here and some not so good. When you play well out here, what are you doing right, and when you don't play so well, what's kind of been your stumbling blocks out here?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I think honestly, I think it's a testament to a well-designed course. You look at, obviously Mexico is very different or Riviera, but every day you have those 64 to 67s and you have some 78s, and like that just doesn't happen every week.

I think it's because this place rewards good golf and penalizes bad golf. I would think that -- I mean, obviously it depends on the weather and you can get some cold, windy and some firm weeks in March, but some of my high numbers have been in May mostly. When it gets firm like that, it puts even more of a premium on hitting the fairway, and those days where I had some high numbers, I was not playing well, and I didn't really have any control of my ball versus when I was playing well. If you get the ball in the fairway you have a lot of wedges and 9-irons into these greens, and I feel like that's a strength of my game. I just have been able to take advantage of that a couple times when I've been hitting it well.

It's a place where you can get it going, you just kind of have to stay patient and wait for your spots.

Q. We always get this mentality that's kind of like win or nothing else, and I'm just curious if you ever finished like in a top 10 that wasn't a win but that was a satisfying week for you. Can you get satisfaction out of a non-win top 10, for instance?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Absolutely. I mean, we all say that and we all think that, but it's not reality. We're not going to win every week. We're not going to win -- I don't know the percentages of the top players' wins in their career, but I can't imagine that anybody except for one person is above 10 or 15 percent. You have to be realistic in senses like that.

I mean, a week like Phoenix this year for me was huge. I did not play very well. I was not driving it well. My irons were very average. I got it around the course very well and ended up -- I had a good Sunday. We got it going a little bit, and ended up finishing third, and I think weeks like that are sometimes more confidence boosting than anything else because realistically I could have won that tournament if I just could have got something going remotely the first couple days, but I just could never -- I was never hitting it well enough to make that five, six birdies in a nine-hole stretch or whatever it was. I'd make a couple and then I'd just make some more pars on some easy holes. I just could never get momentum going.

But for not playing very well and not hitting it very well, I think I made four bogeys over four days so managed my game well and got it around that course well. I'd take the win, but sometimes it's just as confidence boosting.

Q. With the change back to March and the fairways being softer, do you think we're going to see someone shoot a 62 here? The 63s have both been in March, I believe.
JUSTIN THOMAS: I think Colt Knost shot 63 here when it was in May. I think you can. The thing about it being in March, I've never experienced it, I mean, I've heard some horror stories from guys in the past of you get in Jacksonville this time of year you can get some cold, cold days, you can get a strong north wind where we're hitting 6-, 7-, 8-iron on 17. I would imagine if that's the case then you won't be seeing any. But if you get weather like it looks like it could be this week, generally one or two of the days they're going to have the pins set up a little bit easier, someone could get hot and do it. You can do it on any golf course, I think when you give us the soft conditions it's definitely going to be more likely, but at the end of the day 10-under par, that's a low score no matter where you're playing. But I definitely think that it is doable.

Q. It seems like just a blink ago you were considered one of the young guns out here. I want your thoughts on this current crop of young players that come out here and they not only think they can win, they expect to win.
JUSTIN THOMAS: Am I officially out? Am I thrown out of the young --

Q. Yeah, you're out.
JUSTIN THOMAS: Damn, that's rough. (Laughter.)

No, it's impressive, and I think it's cool what the TOUR is doing this week is pairing Viktor, Matt and Collin together. The fact that those three guys have won already is unbelievable. I don't think -- they probably don't even realize how impressive it is.

But they also understand how talented they are, and we do, too, and they're going to be out here for a long time.

You can't compare their group versus our group or another group or whatever it is. You just kind of have to respect what's coming out, and they're unbelievable players, they're very, very mature for being thrown into the spotlight. I think that's something that goes very under-mentioned and underrated is that it's easy to forget that they're 21, 22 years old, I think at least, and they're handling all this very well because they're very much in the spotlight just like any of us are. They're still playing some pretty good golf and being comfortable out here.

I think they're going to continue to do great things, and it's great to have them out here.

Q. This question is from a Chinese fan, so obviously you're one of their favorites. He wants to know before your round if you're not mentally ready, what do you do to snap yourself out of it?
JUSTIN THOMAS: There's plenty of times. You wake up some days and some mornings and you just don't have it, you're tired, you don't feel well. I don't have a good warmup or whatever it might be. I think those days I rely on my caddie Jimmy. He knows if I'm not feeling well. We know each other so well to where we can figure out just by being around each other for 20 minutes if the other one isn't in it that day. I'll just tell him walking to the tee, Hey, man, I need you today, I don't quite feel well or I don't have it and we need to stay extra patient today, and we might talk through things a little bit more. Yeah, I don't know, he does a great job in situations like that, and we've actually had some pretty good rounds doing that.

Q. You referred to it a little bit ago about the top 5s and how that top 3 was a positive moment for you. When you look at Rory right now and the run he's on with all these top 5s, which is pretty remarkable, how do you view that stretch because obviously he's frustrated he hasn't won yet, which I'm sure you would be, as well, but where do you weigh that on the positive side versus the negative side, not closing them out when he's had chances?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I think you definitely have to look at it as a positive. The thing about it is you keep -- when you're as talented as Rory is, you keep putting yourself there, it's going to happen eventually, and he has the capability to do what he's done a couple times where he might win four events in six weeks or win a couple in a row. I know he knows that, I know we all know that, and he's playing some unbelievable golf, but he's just -- it's cool because I respect Rory as much as I like him. I just respect what he does because he works really hard. He takes it extremely seriously. I mean, I would say, along with myself, he is someone that I see practicing more than anybody else. We put a lot of work in.

I think he had some times there where he was expecting more of himself and he wasn't sure what he had to do, and he just kind of had to dig it out of the dirt and kind of just get back to the basics and just, not start over, but be like, I need to be me, I need to be Rory McIlroy and get myself back to what made me great, and he's obviously doing that, and the wins will come.

Q. The guy to chase in the FedExCup at the moment is Sungjae Im. What are your thoughts on him?
JUSTIN THOMAS: He's unbelievable. I remember the first time I played with him at the CJ Cup, it was really windy, as is often is there, and the way he was hitting his drives, we'd have this huge crosswind and he would hit this little low bullet hold and when it would be the other way he would do the same thing, we'd have a downwind into the green he'd throw an iron straight up into the air. I've never seen somebody that young with so many shots. I know it took me a while to learn all those and feel comfortable doing them in a golf tournament, for one, but he obviously is very comfortable doing it, and he definitely plays enough to get comfortable with it in a tournament. It's impressive. I think every person that I know that has played with him for the first time walks off and is like, wow, he's good. He knows what he's doing. He can make his way around a golf course, and yeah, I don't think we're -- anybody who's played with him, I don't think we're surprised that he's won, and I'm sure he's going to win a lot more times.

Q. Regarding the grouping with you and Jordan and Rickie, how hard or easy is it to turn off the friendship when you start off the first tee and get competitive like you need to be? What's that dynamic like to play with two such close friends?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, it can be tough, but I've had some really good rounds with some great friends. You definitely have to find the, I guess, the happy medium of we're going to talk between shots, and it's just a matter of, okay, when do I cut that off and I need to get back into my focus, because I have a lot of times that I hit it up there close and I'm kind of counting my putt, it's like a four-footer and I'm kind of laughing and joking around with the guys on the green and next thing you know it's my turn to putt, I'm not focused and I miss it. I'm walking off the green going, how many times do I have to do to this learn that I've got to stop doing it. But because of that I obviously have learned, and I know that I have to take it into consideration.

We're going to have fun. I mean, not any more fun than we would with anybody else. We just happen to be some group of guys that are really good friends and hang out quite a bit and we're out here competing trying to win a golf tournament.

We're all going to be trying to play as well as we can and beat each other, but in between shots just kind of yuk it up and have some fun.

Q. How hard is it to build your entire schedule for the year, and is it subject to change ever? And also, what did you do the last couple weeks?
JUSTIN THOMAS: In terms of scheduling, it can be tough. I feel like it's going to take a couple years to kind of figure out. The Florida Swing is very difficult for me at least living here. It's like there's so many tournaments I want to play, and there's so many tournaments I feel like are good for me, but at the end of the day, I need to do what's best for me, and I need to do what's going to make sure that my body is in the best shape throughout the year, going to be fresh and ready for the majors, and most importantly fresh and ready for the FedExCup Playoffs, because I felt like last year was kind of strange because obviously I didn't want to miss a month, month and a half with the wrist injury, but come the Playoffs time, everyone is tired and I'm ready to go. I took a month, month and a half off, and I'm like, all right, let's do it, let's keep playing.

I almost learned a little bit from that because it's like, I don't need to play. Yeah, sitting at home and watching the Honda and watching Bay Hill and being like, I know that I can do this and I've had success at Honda and Bay Hill is a tough course, ball striker's course, I know that I can compete there. But I can sit at home every week and do that.

I probably did watch more golf than I have in a while because of just how -- not entertaining but just how good the golf courses we're playing. I thought it was enjoyable to watch. I guess that answers the question, I did watch a lot of golf.

It does take a little bit to figure out the scheduling. But no, I took it easy. I didn't do very much at all. I wanted to get some rest for these next three events coming up in a row, and one of my best friends from high school got married this past weekend in Louisville, so I went home Thursday, got to see my friends and my family that I don't get to see very often and spend a nice fun weekend with them and then came back Sunday morning and went out and played with dad Sunday afternoon and then came here yesterday.

Q. It's been kind of an odd start to the year in terms of winning Kapalua, missing the cut at Sony, being there at Phoenix, missing the cut at LA, being there in Mexico. What's going on?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I hope that trend doesn't continue now that you say that.

No, Sony was weird. The conditions were so brutal. I don't know if it just took a lot out of me winning in Kapalua or what it was, but I played poorly, but I didn't -- I just couldn't get the ball in the hole at Sony. I had a hard time putting in that wind, and the golf course was so different than any year I've ever played it where, honestly, I feel like it almost hurt me playing there -- not that five times is that many -- but playing there as many times as I have, because I'm used to, when you hit it in the rough on No. 1, you're trying to land it 15 yards short of that green on the right and run it up there. Whereas, you're in the rough, straight downwind, you had to fly it in the middle of the green because it was so soft that the ball was just going to basically plug where it was. I think it took me about 20-something holes to figure that out, and by that point it was a little too late and didn't matter.

But in LA I just drove it bad, and when you drive it bad out there, you're pretty much behind the 8-ball, and I could never get the ball close enough to the hole to make any birdies.

I actually played all right on Friday. I played good enough to post a score well enough to make the cut, but I just played so poorly on Thursday that I didn't really have much. Just kind of been a little bit of up and down.

Q. Secondly, have you or any of your people sat down or talked with the Premier Golf League, and when do you have to make a decision if there's one to be made?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I don't know, in terms of the decision. I've tried to keep it as far away from me as possible because I'm focused on playing out here and taking whatever week I have next, focusing on that as opposed to focusing on whatever it is. We haven't really talked about it. I mean, it's just something that kind of gets brought up quickly, and I kind of let them handle it. Like I said, that's not my part. I'm out here to try to get ready to play on the PGA TOUR, and that's my main focus right now, and once that opportunity ever presents itself to actually sit down and talk about it, then we can.

Q. Davis Riley is having a great start to the year on the Korn Ferry TOUR. Can you speak to your relationship with him and following his progress and what stands out to you and impresses you with his game?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, Davis is a stud, man. He's one of the guys when I'd go back and visit the guys at school, I just hit it off with him so well. He kind of reminds me a lot of myself. He's a good player, but he's laid back, he's easy going. He's a great teammate. Got along with all the guys. I just really, really like him. I do. I kind of wanted to take him under my wing a little bit and try to help him as much as I could, whether he wanted the help or not, just present it to him that I'm here to help if he wants. He's impressive. I mean, there's a handful of guys or a group of guys I feel like in college and amateur golf, there's obviously going to be a lot of kids that come out and are very successful, but he's someone that you sit and watch hit balls, and it's like, that's a different sound than everybody makes, it's a different ball flight than everybody makes and he just needs to stay focused and keep doing what he's doing. Whatever he's doing right now is working pretty well and hopefully he'll have continued success and we'll have a lot of years out here together.

Q. From this point on until through the TOUR Championship, the schedule seems a little unrelenting. You're never more than a few weeks away from a really big event. How do you go about compartmentalizing to avoid burning out from THE PLAYERS through the TOUR Championship?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, it's a good question, but I think I just try to take everything I've learned over the past five years from it. It's like, I don't play more than three in a row. Nobody, including my caddie, wants me to ever play four in a row. It just doesn't bode for a good Justin. Not fun to be around. Using the Mondays through Wednesdays how I need to use them and using the off weeks how I need to use them, and I feel like I'm definitely young enough and do the proper training to where I should not get burnt out. Certainly there's going to be weeks where maybe you're a little bit more excited when you get to the course or tee it up on Thursday than others, but that's why I do what I do. I came out here and I wanted to play professional golf so I could be playing all these tournaments and playing from THE PLAYERS to the TOUR Championship. There's definitely -- it definitely beats the alternative of not having to worry about burning out, that's for sure. That's what I do all of my work on the off weeks and training for, so that doesn't happen.

Q. Speaking to your pairing, the spring break reunion tour this week, can you just talk about that pairing, and can that be advantageous playing with buddies? Is that something that can be a help during a tournament, first two rounds of a tournament?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, it'll be a good time. We've had a lot of rounds of golf together, probably more fun rounds than competitive rounds. I don't know. At the end of the day, we're going to play well because of us, not because of the people we're with. I mean, there's obviously times where you'll have everyone in the group is 4- or 5-under, you can kind of feed off each other. Sometimes the group is a little bit flat. But at the end of the day, if we all get off to a good start, then we might play well. It's not like I'm going to play great today because I played with Jordan and Rick. I would like to hope that I have a little bit more confidence in myself, that I'm a good enough player to play without them. But that being said, it is nice knowing -- I was going to say it's not like I can really catch up with them. I pretty much know everything about them already, and vice versa, but it's just -- I like their caddies, I like their families. It's easy for us. It's something we're very, very accustomed to.

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