CRAWFORD | Thomas begins quest to repeat at PGA Championship
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It’s worth stopping for a moment to think about Justin Thomas in 2000, just 7 years old, watching Tiger Woods win the PGA Championship at Valhalla.
The kid watching Woods make those putts, and hearing the roar. And then going out and trying to make them himself, imagining himself in those hallowed settings.
“When you're at that age, you go up on the putting green out at Harmony (Landing), and then I'm making putts to try to win the PGA or to win the Masters,” Thomas said. “And all those putts that I was making were putts that Tiger just continued to make that week, and I just was watching it over and over on TV. It was a cool week. It just got me motivated, being on that range and seeing those guys, I remember. It's just like, man, I want to do this, even at 7 years old.”
Today at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Thomas will tee off in defense of the PGA Championship he won a year ago. In his playing group will be Tiger Woods, along with his friend Rory McIlroy. Woods is the only player ever to win back-to-back PGA Championships since it went to stroke play.
“It will be fun,” Thomas said. “I enjoy playing with Tiger. I really enjoy playing with Rory. We played together in L.A., us three. So, yeah, it will be a cool week. I know this is, I guess, I don't know, the last time Tiger played a PGA -- '15? So, you know, it will be cool for him to be back, and he obviously has a lot of great success in this tournament, as he does most of the ones he's played in. So, yeah, it will be fun, but once we get out there, like most weeks, it will be business. We'll chat here and there between shots, but, yeah, most of the bickering goes on before the tournament starts.”
Pretty heady times. But Thomas has not pressed this week leading up to the tournament. He played just half a practice round at Bellerive. He felt the rest was more important than the practice coming off his win last week in the Bridgestone Invitation in Akron, Ohio.
In some ways, that’s a maturation in his game. He knew he had played the Bellerive course on Media Day a month or so back, so he wasn’t going to press.
“Monday, I wanted to take completely off after winning last week,” he said. “I just wanted to get rest, and I really didn't want to touch a club, to be honest. So I just came out, registered, dropped my clubs off, went back and worked out, saw my physio. I mean, just kind of rested really. I intended on playing the front nine yesterday or potentially all 18, but just with the weather, it just was -- it was a little too much, and it was a lot of back and forth. I was tired. So I -- for me, I was going to get a lot more out of practicing. So we just -- I mean, I hit balls for maybe five minutes before I went and played, but we just did a lot of chipping and putting, trying to get used to the speed of the greens.”
Playing just 4 ½ hours from home, Thomas feels comfortable with his surroundings, the speed of the greens, the weather conditions he’ll face. He mentioned Louisville four times in his pre-tournament news conference.
“You look at any place in this part of the country in August, with this much humidity and this much rain, I mean, the greens are going to be soft, they're going to be slower,” Thomas said. “It's just the way it is. You're not going to get greens like Augusta. You know, you get a place like this in April, then you'll be able to have that, but that's just how it works. I grew up in Louisville, Ky., where this is how greens were in the summer, and I'm perfectly fine with them. The hole is still just as big, the ball's still going to go in, and someone's still going to win at the end of the week. So I'm fine with it.”
He'll be especially fine if he can celebrate a second straight PGA win and a second major.
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