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March 7, 2023

Justin Thomas

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, USA

TPC Sawgrass

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We would like to welcome our 2021 PLAYERS Champion, Justin Thomas, here at the media center. Just opening thoughts on being back TPC Sawgrass, a course where you're comfortable and have obviously had success in the past.

JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I always loved being here. It's a special week. It's our championship. It's our tournament. The course is always in immaculate condition. Especially being in March, it's very, very green and the kind of the outlines of the fairways and the rough, it all looks perfect. It's a place I look forward to coming every year. It as golf course I think is extremely well-designed, and I always enjoy playing it.

THE MODERATOR: To that point, why do you think this design and this layout seems to stand out as just a really solid test on TOUR as compared to others?

JUSTIN THOMAS: I think it's just unique. I think you stand up on a hole, call it like No. 1, and it doesn't really look like anything special or anything crazy, but it's a tee shot that very clearly, not requires, but asks for a left-to-right ball flight off the tee, and then the green asks for a right-to-left ball flight into the green. So and there's a lot of holes like that. No. 2 is the same way. It's asking for a draw off the tee, and then the green is set up for a fade into the green. It just really requires a lot of different kinds of shots and a lot of creativity, something that I think is a strength of mine.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.

Q. I spoke with Rickie yesterday and he was talking about how you and Jordan have sort of been sounding boards for him as he was going through his really rough stretch, and now he seems to be making his way back. Could you just share at least in generalities what you were able to kind of tell him or to help him along to get through this rough patch?

JUSTIN THOMAS: It's not as much as you probably think. It's really just, I mean he's one of my best friends. It has nothing to do with oh, you know, it's Rickie Fowler. He is who he is, and I'm doing it for the sake of -- obviously I want him to play better, but I just want to be there as a friend. I think that sometimes the -- kind of the like the man in you doesn't want to necessarily like ask your friends for help; you know what I'm saying. Like it's not like a cool thing to do.

But I mean, I've been there. I've talked to different friends, whether it's about specific golf stuff or thought process, whatever it is. My thing to Rick is I'm like, dude, if you ever need anything or want anything, I'm here as much as you want or as little as you want.

He would ask some things from time to time, but it was more just helping him whenever I could. This can be a lonely game sometimes. Even with your family, wife, girlfriend, whatever, out on the road with you, it's still lonely when you're out there, between your ears. So we're all very glad to see he's playing well.

Q. As a follow-up to that, how much would it sort lift golf, lift the PGA TOUR to see Rickie Fowler back in the winner's circle?

JUSTIN THOMAS: It would be great. It's clearly trending that way. He's playing some really good golf, really solid consistent golf. I can just tell from playing practice rounds with him or playing with him at home, he's just, he's a different person. He's got a lot more swagger, a lot more confidence. His expectations are different. It's funny just what a couple tournaments or maybe one particular shot or week here and there will do. I think yeah he's definitely in that group of people that it's good for the game of golf when he's playing well.

Q. If I may ask one more, why does Rickie resonate in such a different way with fans than your standard elite golfer out there?

JUSTIN THOMAS: I mean, he gives more than anybody, I would say. He's more relatable. He gives more time, whether it's signing or having fan experiences. He's always been very active on social media, definitely more so pre-family, I would say. But he just basically has given more effort into it, I would say. Because of that, that's a reason why he's I think one of the most loved out here.

Q. Do you have a favorite hole out here or one you feel especially comfortable with, and on the other side, a hole that you find like very challenging?

JUSTIN THOMAS: 18 is really hard. I mean today it's in and off the left. It doesn't get much more uncomfortable than that tee shot when it's like that. Then when you got it in off the left in May, it was firm enough where you could kind of burn something out there and maybe hit an iron in. But it just, it's hard to hit less than driver and have less than a 5-iron in when it's soft like this.

But there's a lot of great holes out here. I really like 13. I think it's a very sneaky cool little par-3. The wind can kind of swirl back in that little tunnel almost where the tee is. But if you hit a good tee shot, if you get it kind of in the right section of where the pin is, you can have a really good look at birdie. But you can also make 4 or 5 in a heartbeat there.

So I think that's, especially in the place it is in the course, is a pretty pivotal hole.

Q. Your father has obviously been very influential in teaching you how to play golf. From that experience, do you feel like that you have extra knowledge to help somebody else with their golf game?

JUSTIN THOMAS: Me personally?

Q. Yeah.

JUSTIN THOMAS: I don't think so, to be honest. I'm a terrible coach. Like I'm not, I'm very good at like the basics of playing with amateurs and seeing they slap across it and I can just kind of give them something to help with that.

But when it gets to this level of players, I'm not very good at coaching. I'm not technical. But I'm also not a coach, so I'm not supposed to be. But the way that things just kind of resonate or work in my head are very feel oriented and very specific to me. So things that I may be feeling or seeing or thinking might not resonate with another person on TOUR or another quality player. So to answer your question, no, I don't think so.

Q. So Rickie just asked you because you're friends?

JUSTIN THOMAS: What's that?

Q. Rickie just asked you for some advice because you're friends?

JUSTIN THOMAS: I would say, yeah, it wasn't necessarily any like technical thoughts, it's just being there for a friend and, yeah, I mean a lot of it is just being there to talk to or being there to vent to or whatever it may be.

Q. I'm just wondering about the LIV and PGA TOUR golf antitrust fight and wondering what it really means for the fate of PGA TOUR players. I know you talked about challenges here in terms of the wind conditions, all of that stuff, but is it something that PGA TOUR players are thinking of in the back of their mind in terms of this antitrust fight playing out in the background while all these golf games are going on?

JUSTIN THOMAS: No. I'm not really wasting my time thinking about that.

Q. But in terms of what that fighting means for the fate of players because it will impact the PGA's -- we have seen what's happened with say, for instance, in baseball or basketball where courts have sometimes changed the way a certain sports business works. So in that sense do you pay attention to it and some of the legal issues because it just seems like it could impact the fate of players and the future of the players?

JUSTIN THOMAS: I definitely don't doubt that it's a huge impact and it's very important, but I'm not near smart enough to get involved in any of that. That's not my job to get paid to do something like that. I'm just trying to play golf the best I can and, you know, let the legal system go from there.

Q. Can you please explain of both dates March and May which one of the dates are more favorable for your type of golf? Is there any key difference between playing the course let's say March with the reseeding or May, and which one favors more your type of golf?

JUSTIN THOMAS: To be perfectly honest, I liked the course significantly more in May than I do in March. I won in March, so I like it a lot in March as well. I mean, I never dislike it. I just, I always enjoy a firmer and faster course, and I think that this course becomes a lot more challenging, especially off the tee. Missing the fairways, it's just totally different. It was Bermuda in May, and it's overseed this time of year. So it's literally two different kinds of golf courses.

We're going to get some mud balls. You can, if you get the correct wind, you can hold 4-, 5-irons on greens. Then in May you would have times where you have 7-, 8-, 9-irons and it's really tough to hold the greens. So you have to, I would say you have a lot more options off the tee in May because of how firm it plays off the tee. It's a lot of just drivers and 3-woods now. Just hitting the fairway and staying out of the long rough, that kind of thing.

Q. You're leading the TOUR in strokes gained around the green. It can be a little bit of a fluky stat, but do you feel like you've seen any improvement with your short game or is it maybe just making some putts from the fringe that count there?

JUSTIN THOMAS: I've definitely seen some improvement in my short game. I mean, it's so early in the season, I feel like all the stats are kind of skewed. You have one bad something or one bad tournament, call it, and then you could get put way behind, whereas a couple weeks -- and it goes the same thing with chipping or putting or whatever it is. If you have a huge week, it can totally springboard you to where you're at.

But I do also feel like chipping is a strength of my game. I have been working on it hard. Just more of like the basic chips that I've struggled with. So it's been, I would say, a work in progress in seeing some improvement in it, and making putts from the fringe helps too.

Q. This has always been known as the strongest and deepest field of the year, et cetera. Just in recent memory, how do you distinguish between which is harder to win between this week and last week, and as we go forward, the more you guys get together in these big elevated events, big-time courses, Riv, Bay Hill, whatever, does it lose kind of its separation?

JUSTIN THOMAS: That's a good question. I don't think it does. Because I mean one could argue that, I mean the Masters is still, I think, harder to win this tournament, you know, it's harder to win the Masters than it is this tournament. But this field is stronger than the Masters.

But it's because of the Masters and it's because of the history it has. It's because of what comes with it. There's everything else that adds to it that make it's more difficult.

I do think that this tournament is harder to win than last week because of the way that the courses are set up. I think it's difficult to play well and make a lot of birdies on a place like last week versus here. But that being said, you can also kind of par it to death and sprinkle in a couple birdies.

I mean, I talked to Scottie Scheffler about it yesterday. I was like, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I had no idea that you had a chance to win that golf tournament. Like I played with him the first two days, he was playing well, but I just remember, I mean obviously he was looking at the leaderboards and I never really saw his name and then all of a sudden we're on 17 green and I look over and I was like, Scottie's one back or tied for the lead. Like where the hell did he even come from? That's the kind of thing that can happen at a place like last week. I have no idea if this is answering any of your questions, but...

Q. You're making a good effort though. I appreciate it.

JUSTIN THOMAS: No, I don't think it's going to lose its, what did you say? Just about this tournament.

Q. Separation.

JUSTIN THOMAS: Its separation. I do not think that this tournament will lose that separation.

Q. If you think back to some of the bigger events you've won, whether it's Memphis or Medinah or what have you, what was the level of pressure you felt here compared with there? You had already won a major when you won here, so we're not going to count that.

JUSTIN THOMAS: It's just different. I'm a little, I don't want to say shaky, kind of like jittery, you have the butterflies. It's kind of hard to keep your hands stable. I don't know. Sometimes you get that on a random shot, for a shot at the tournament or at a Ryder Cup or on the weekend of a big tournament. But it's just, to me the nerves that I had playing the last couple holes here versus the last couple holes at call it another tournament that I've won is different. I mean, you have more nerves and it means more at this because it's a bigger tournament. But the same time, that's why you play, and you want to be in those positions, so it's a good thing to feel, I guess.

Q. Can you talk about the new competitive model, your thoughts about it and what the PGA TOUR has done in the past year to make the players happier?

JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, I guess "players" is kind of a relative term. I think we definitely know one person that's not too thrilled about it. But it's tough. It's an extremely tough thing, I think, to kind of dive into. I know Max kind of did that, whether it was last week or a couple weeks ago. There's not going to be any model that makes everybody happy. That's just a stone-cold fact.

But at the end of the day, when every single one of us signed up to play golf, you knew that the better you played, the better tournaments you were going to be into, and the worse you played, you may not even have a job anymore or you may be on a developmental tour or whatever it may be. None of that is changing.

I just think there's -- it's a mindset kind of thing of the maybe some people that are upset about it is, okay, do I want to look at that table or look at that tournament and say, that's not fair, I don't get to play in that, or do I want to say I want to be a part of that table or I want to be a part of that tournament. That's how all of us were raised, to think about golf is we want to play and practice and get to a point where we're playing in these majors and now playing in these elevated events against the best players in the world as often as possible, and we're now developing, have developed a model where that's happening.

I just, I don't see how it wouldn't be better for everybody, the fans, the sponsors, the communities, the charities around there, the players. It's going to bring better out of us. I just don't see how it's not better. It's going to push all of us, and then it's going to create more opportunities for guys to be a part of that and also kind of keep us competitive to want to stay in those events.

Q. After the third round of the PGA last year I guess Bones either gave you a pep talk or maybe it was tough love, what have you. I don't know how you would describe it. Maybe you could. But why did that resonate so much, and how much does he do that, or is it important to pick your spots to do that?

JUSTIN THOMAS: It's definitely important to pick your spots. I think caddies have a very tough gig sometimes. They're expected to say everything at the right times, but the second that they say something at the wrong time, a lot of guys are quick to get on them or maybe they will get on themselves. It's really tough.

In that situation, I think he just saw, he saw me, saw my body language, he saw that I felt and looked defeated, which I felt that way. I felt like I just threw away a great opportunity to win a major championship. I was pretty pissed off and I was pretty upset. There's no reason why I wouldn't or shouldn't be.

I had been playing some really, really good golf the last, the previous couple months up to that, and there was no reason to get myself in a head space to think anything differently. It was just one round, one bad day, and in reality, yeah, it did look like I had shot myself out of it, but there's nothing we could do and I just had to continue to stay positive, and Bones did a great job of reminding me of that we're still doing a lot of really good things, we just had one bad day, one fluky day, and just go out and do the best we can tomorrow and see where it puts us. He definitely, you know, talked me off the ledge a little bit, because I was pretty bummed.

Q. Is that not as effective as if it had been from your dad, because obviously he's your coach, he's telling you these things a lot. Maybe sometimes they don't always sink in?

JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, it's a fair point. I would say so, because Bones is less likely to say something. I mean my dad's always going to be one to be there and support me, and if I'm hard -- he's seen me be hard on myself for 29 years now. So he, it's, that's not a new song and dance to him.

But for Bones to speak up, and he's getting a lot more comfortable in doing so now, I know that it's because, it comes from a good place, everything from him does, but he just wants the best. I mean we're on the same team here and we're trying to get the most out of all of us and myself, and he felt it was appropriate.

Q. Did you attend the players meeting this morning?


Q. Is there anything that you're concerned about with the changes that are coming?


Q. Going to -- you're playing next week, correct?


Q. What was it about Valspar that made you want to play when it's in the middle of this big stretch of designated events?

JUSTIN THOMAS: It's a place I love. I really, really love the golf course. I just I feel like I have a really good chance to win there if I go play. I just, I simply don't feel that way about Austin Country Club. It's nothing against the course; I've just, I've played it six times and I've played it really bad five of them.

So I just felt like it was a better decision for me to go to a place where I at least had some positivity and felt like I had a lot better chance to win than going to an elevated event, a huge event, being the Match Play, but knowing that I've had no success except for kind of -- I would hate to call it a fluke year, but one year. And I didn't really want to take three weeks off before the Masters.

So, yeah, it is going to be at the end of a big stretch, but I feel like being in Florida, not overly too far away on the time zone that I'm used to for the majority of the year and, yeah, it's a really good golf course, I think.

Q. Curious what thought of the portrayal of yourself in the Netflix show, and will you be involved in the future?

JUSTIN THOMAS: Yeah, at least to my knowledge I'm signed on for season two. But, yeah, I thought it was good. I mean, you're never -- it's probably never good to ask the -- yourself of how you thought you were portrayed just because you're always going to have things to be hard on yourself or kind of point some things out or, oh, I wish they did this or I wish they had done that or I wish that I hadn't said this; you know what I'm saying? So it's hard, but I've heard a lot of good things out from the outside or from some friends, so I guess that's good enough for me.

Q. Technology question for you. I know you wear Whoop. This is a product placement, but how and why did you start using that technology, and what do you use it for?

JUSTIN THOMAS: I started using it probably four years ago, something like that, three or four years ago. Rory is who told me about it, as funny as it is. I'm just, I'm someone who feel like if I can get some kind of advantage or if I can learn something, I'm going to want to do it.

I felt like that was just kind of an area that I hadn't really dove into in myself in terms of things that I'm doing throughout the day or maybe in the afternoon or night that could influence how I feel, how I'm recovering and all of that. It's just something that I enjoyed.

It kind of becomes like a game, the first -- or at least I know I was kind of infatuated with it in the beginning. I wake up and I'm immediately looking at it. I know that there's a million things I've learned from wearing it, of some habits that I can do that are just going to help me feel better and recover better the next kind of day. So that's something where obviously if I'm going into a week like this or any other tournament like, okay, I know that I'm not going to have a massive steak and dessert at 9:30 at night if I'm waking up at 5:30 a.m. But I would say the majority of this room could have told you that without wearing a Whoop band. But there's also some little things of just picking up on it that I feel like can I use to my advantage and help me out.

Q. Is there anything on course you use, like if you're on the 12th tee at Augusta or the first tee that you know where your heart rate is? Do you ever look at that or anything like that?

JUSTIN THOMAS: I do, I do. I actually did last week a little bit, just because I felt like I was in a very good head space and very calm, and I wanted to see if it backed it up, and it did.

I would say the closest thing I'll do in terms of using it for tournaments is I try to emulate that as much as I can in my practice. I try to get put myself in situations that elevate my heart rate remotely close to a tournament, just to try to get accustomed to that. But it's hard to do unless you're in that moment.

Q. Do you recall the first time you played a round of golf here? What was the circumstance? Do you remember your first impressions and maybe how did you play or anything stand out from that round?

JUSTIN THOMAS: I don't remember my -- my first round -- oh, no, it would have been the Junior PLAYERS. Yeah, the Junior PLAYERS I played here. I have no idea how many holes I played, what nine I played, anything. But I just, I remember liking the golf course immediately when I came here. So that's unfortunately all I got for you.

Q. Q-School this fall is going to introduce five cards and ties to the top finishers, and it's going to be here at the Valley Course for half of it. Thinking back to comparing it to your time at Q-School, how will that carry of the five TOUR cards do you think influence the way players prepare in approach and just overall vibe of that week at final stage?

JUSTIN THOMAS: I would hope that the preparation wouldn't be overly different, just because it's, I would say, I would say it will help a group of people, because I just remember -- and you very rarely go into a tournament trying to finish top 40, you know what I mean. So I think that's something that I know when guys out of college or something that were going to Q-School would ask me any advice, and I'm like, just try to go win the golf tournament because if you try to win the tournament and you don't achieve that, you're going to be usually pissed off that you finished 30th. Whereas 30th is good in this situation, because you achieved what you tried to do and that's get a card.

So I think it will help some of the top players. I just know that I personally, like I said, I struggle with it. It was a very weird thing to go into a tournament trying to finish a certain position versus every tournament I tee it up in. Yeah, I feel better some weeks than others, but my end goal is still to try to win that golf tournament. So I wouldn't think it will change preparation too much.

Q. When the TOUR announced the changes to the designated events last week, Greg Norman tweeted, I think it was imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In your mind what's the difference between the designated events and what LIV is doing?

JUSTIN THOMAS: (Smiling.) Well, we have an astronomically higher amount of quality players than they do in their events (laughing). But, no, it's very -- yeah it's extremely -- I think all of us have not been shy to say it that, you know, this is stuff that we've been trying to do and have worked on. Obviously got sped up a crazy amount due to what was going on in the outside.

But, yeah, I mean you could say it in different ways but it's no different than the WGCs were; there's just obviously more than there were WGCs. We still have your regular, you know, cut events. I don't know, I mean if you're just going to single out those events and have them only be the events we have, then, yeah, it's extremely similar. But there's a lot more going on over the course of an entire year on the PGA TOUR than just the elevated events, I would say.

THE MODERATOR: Justin, thanks for the time. Best of luck this week.

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