LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Justin Thomas, the world's No. 4-ranked golfer, has been biding his time during the COVID-19 shutdowns a lot like everyone else. He got used to staying home in Florida. His backyard became a training area. Nearby Medalist Golf Club stayed open, so he was able to work in rounds, with just one playing partner, without caddies, but at least it was golf.
Now with the PGA resuming play with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Golf Club in Fort Worth, Texas, it's the return of golf that counts. And that itself will be a change to adjust to, according to Thomas, who is playing in the event for the first time.
"Honestly I think the hardest thing for me is just going to be getting back into it," Thomas told reporters on Tuesday. "The fact that that 4-footer I have on the first hole matters, and yeah, if I hit this ball in a hazard, OK, that's a penalty stroke, or a penalty area or whatever, and it's real. It's not just going out and having a money game with your buddies. Every shot counts, it matters, and it's cumulative score for four days, and that's I think for me the thing that's going to be the hardest because I sometimes feel rusty after two, three weeks off, let alone four months."
Of course, those aren't the only changes golfers will deal with. This tournament will break the longest gap in PGA play since World War II. For Thomas, the threat of COVID-19 means keeping his circle small. For his next three tour stops, he has rented houses with Rickie Fowler and his wife Alison, and tour pro Jason Dufner.
"We just felt like the more things that we control and the less variables in terms of either food I was eating or stuff I was touching -- Rickie, Alison, Duf who's in the house, if we just kind of keep our circle small and stay in that circle, we felt like that was going to be the best option," Thomas said. "It's something that we've done a lot in the past, but it just felt like it made a lot more sense with everything going on the rest of the summer, so that's something that we're going to be doing a lot of."
Players and all course personnel will submit to thermal temperature checks every day, and social distancing restrictions on the course will add to the different feel. Even something as basic as grabbing a club out of his own bag instead of having caddie Jimmy Johnson hand it to him will be a change.
"Yeah, we talked about it a little bit, because I'm someone who's -- if I ask Jimmy a question, I'm usually -- my head is right here and I'm looking in his book, so it's going to be difficult for everybody," Thomas said. "I would love to say that everybody is going to be perfect and everything is going to go as is, but I mean, you saw in the match, you just forget, and as long as we continue to do as much as we can and sanitize as much as we can and just do everything we possibly can, I think that we'll be more than OK. We'll be great, and it will be difficult, but yeah, it was just simple things like -- little things like on the range where Jimmy is throwing me balls with a 3-wood or driver where I take them and put them on the tee, I'm grabbing them, I'm getting the clubs out of my bag. So it's just little things like that that -- well, I guess, yeah, you take for granted and you just don't think about that everyone is going to have to get used to them."
At the same time, Thomas will be adjusting to a new course in a tournament he's playing for the first time. The COVID precautions aren't the only thing the PGA will be aware of as play resumes. It is leaving open the 8:46 tee time to hold a moment of silence in memory of George Floyd, whose death in police custody in Milwaukee sparked national protests and a worldwide movement to address police brutality.
For Thomas and the rest, it's a different world from the one that stopped back in late February. But the time has come to get their heads back into the game. He soaked into a practice round on Tuesday, learning the course, and enjoying some semblance of pre-Tournament routine.
"It's just a great old-school golf course where you put the ball in play and then it's a second-shot course, and hitting to the small greens, and you have pure bent greens," Thomas said. "I'm just excited to be here, because again, it's a place that I've always wanted to come to, just never worked out in the schedule, and obviously would have liked to come under a little bit different circumstances than this year, but no matter what, I'm glad to be here. ... It's going to be weird, but at the same time it's going to be weird for everybody."
And he speaks for everyone when he says he's glad to be back. The circumstances aren't optimal, but players will adapt.
"I would say 2020 is beyond a bizarre year so far, and especially in the world of sports it's just going to be different," Thomas said. "If we all want to get back and play the game that we love and not just for us but for the fans and everybody at home, we're just going to have to get over the fact that it's going to be different and be a little weird."
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