Justin Thomas won his first major last year in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, and he’s one of the favorites entering this year’s event at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.
While that tournament was a huge breakthrough in Thomas’ career, he talked Wednesday about how a long-ago PGA Championship inspired him.
The Louisville native recalled how, as an aspiring 7-year-old golfer, he attended the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in his hometown.
Tiger Woods won that event, and his performance influenced Thomas.
“Being 7 years old, I don’t remember a whole lot that I was thinking, but I do remember how cool it was, hearing the roars … and the shots Tiger was hitting, the putts he was making,” Thomas said during a pre-tournament media session at Bellerive.
“When you’re that age, you go out on the putting green … and I’m making putts to try to win the PGA, or to win the Masters. … It was a cool week. It got me motivated being out on that range and seeing those guys, and (thinking), ‘I want to do this.'”
Thomas will get an even closer look at Woods this weekend — the two will be in the same group the first two rounds, an opportunity Thomas relishes.
With @TigerWoods and @JustinThomas34 live on the range before the #PGAChamp https://t.co/07kDUWEvKm
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 8, 2018
“It’ll be pretty crazy out there. There will be a lot of people, I know that,” Thomas said. “It’ll be fun. I enjoy playing with Tiger. … But once we get out there, it will be business.”
It’s been an up-and-down year for Thomas. He has three wins this season, including last week at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. That victory clinched him a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
On the downside, Thomas missed the cut at the British Open in July and finished 56th in his most recent appearance before that. He has finished outside the top 10 in 12 of 18 events this season.
Thomas, 25, said even the bad weeks are part of his professional development.
“You learn from every tournament. I learned from the British Open and I missed the cut,” Thomas said. “I learned from the Travelers, when I finished 50th or whatever. You learn every week.”
“In terms of managing expectations, at the end of the day it’s still golf. It doesn’t matter if you won nine times the year before, or you haven’t won in three years, the low score that week that you’re playing still wins the golf tournament. I still need to get as prepared as I possibly can.”
Thomas said that entering this week’s tournament as the defending champion is no different than if he were still trying to win it the first time (“It’s a great opportunity, but the part about defending isn’t any harder than winning in general,” he said).
But he is enjoying the perks.
“It’s obviously been fun,” he said. “Having a parking spot I can pull into is nice.”