Justin Thomas: “You have to put yourself there”

Justin Thomas has had a pretty good first year in his PGA Tour career. He’s played in 19 events, had 5 top-10s and locked up his card for next year with $1.4 million in winnings. I interviewed him on the range at the Phoenix Open and right after his calendar year-opening T6 and T7 at the Sony Open in Hawaii and the Humana Challenge in Palm Springs. He was pretty laid back and at ease with all of the hoopla around that and we had a thoughtful conversation.

Which helps to explain his bearing in his interview Tuesday at the AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas. It first came out when he was asked about his pairing this week with Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka:  

I don’t know who I made mad to get that pairing (laughter).  It’s going to be a lot of the fun.  I never played a lot of golf with Brooks in amateur golf and obviously played pretty good amount with Jordan, you know, just messing around in practice rounds in college but never played with either one of them in a competitive round.

It’s nice to play with some people you’re comfortable with.  It will be nice and relaxing and hopefully we’ll play in good golf out there.

And with all that star power and playing in Spieth’s home town (Thomas and Patrick Rodgers are staying at Spieth’s house), what is his expectation about how the crowds are going to react?

It’s going to be pretty wild.  I’ve never been here or played this event.  It’s hard for me to really understand how the crowds will be but obviously I think it’s going to be pretty, you know, weather-dependent.

It’s pretty sloppy out there and it’s going to be tough for spectators to get around and definitely going to be some people falling this week.  I’ll be sure to watch out for that.  It will be fun and probably the most fun people I’ve played in front of. It will be cool for me.

Which gets to his “gold” quote on the process of being able to perform at the highest level. There’s not a professional golfer who doesn’t know this — that’s why they’re all beating their brains out on the mini-tours — but in order to get there, you have to put yourself there…repeatedly until you acclimate.

It’s a lot easier.  That’s just a part of it.  I think any sport, any profession, anything you do, the more you put yourself there the more you’re going to be more comfortable.

It’s kind of, I guess, how you become going good to great.  You have to be in those situations, you have to put yourself there, you have to learn how to handle it, you have to learn how your body reacts, your game reacts and I felt like I’ve about learned as much as I can in that aspect.

There’s obviously different things I can learn but I feel like I’ve done the necessary things to at least understand how everything is now.

That’s not to say that exposure is some sort of magic elixir, it isn’t. There are guys who have been playing for years who still admit to being nervous wrecks on the first tee. But over time, it becomes less and less, they find a way to settle themselves so that they can play and they have gone on to long careers. Johnny Miller comes to mind as a guy who constantly talks about his and the players’ nerves.

But it becomes a given, it let’s you know that you’re alive and that what you’re trying to do matters. You learn to live with it. And you press on for the reward of getting over it and, on a good week, all the rest of the players in the field.

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