Justin Thomas fired a final round 69 to win the SBS Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. It was the third career win for Thomas, and second this season – in just four starts.
Afterwards the newly crowned champ sat down with the media for the obligatory presser.
Here’s roundup of 10 of the best questions and answers.
1. Third win on the PGA TOUR, but the first with mommy and daddy on the premises. How does that feel?
THOMAS: It feels great. I actually thought of that yesterday. I know my mom, I know she’s going to be crying pretty good. I was actually surprised she held it together. I tried to make it tough on them. Yeah, it’s great to have them here.
2. There was so many good shots, but the second into 17, that was really something.
THOMAS: I felt really comfortable, even those bad shots I hit, the tee shot on 14 or the second shot on 15, I didn’t feel bad or nervy or anything over them. I think I just tried to do too much or didn’t take my time enough.
I felt good out there. I told myself, there’s no reason to lose concentration or confidence just because of a couple swings, and that one on 17 was awesome.
3. It’s hard to process so quickly after the fact but now third win, short space of time, you must feel like you belong on the PGA TOUR?
THOMAS: Yeah, that’s why I left school early and that’s why I turned pro when I did. I came out here to win and I felt like I was ready to. These last couple tournaments, to get a couple done, it’s always great.
But get a night to celebrate it and then we’re on to next week.
4. Well, how does the first multiple-winner of the new 2016-2017 season sound to you, and how does that change things going forward this year?
THOMAS: Changes things going forward because I know I’m coming back here next year, so I couldn’t be more excited about that.
Yeah, it’s a great feeling. I mean, obviously I stumbled more than I would have liked to on some of those holes but I think it really shows where my game is at right now. I had some woes there the second part of the nine, but I stuck it out to still get it done.
5. How do you go from a five-shot lead to watching Hideki over a 10-foot to tie you in a span of three holes and keep your wits about yourself? And secondly, if you could kind of just walk us through what goes through your mind as the ball is in the air on 17, the 8-iron.
THOMAS: Yeah, it was — I mean, 14, I couldn’t do anything about. I didn’t hit a — that was a driver all week, for me but in the position I was in, there’s no reason to hit driver. So I decided to lay up, and I hit a bad 4-iron. 4-iron wasn’t my club today, as you’ll see.
But I mean, I hit a great shot in there and felt like if I could have made that putt, that would have been huge. But just like it was on 14, 15 and 16, I mean, length-wise, they were great looks but I just had to be so tentative on them. I had to be so perfect to where you’re really just hoping the hole gets in the way and it just rolls past if it does.
So I wasn’t really too flustered by 14, just because he hit an unbelievable chip. And I put it perfect again off the tee on 15. And something about that hole, I just don’t like. I played 3-over this week, with two 8-irons and 4-iron and a chip shot.
But I think I just was kind of sick of hitting it down to the right so much, so I tried to kind of hold a 4-iron against it, which there’s no reason to do. Down to the right was okay. And I just laid the sod; I fat-hooked it right in the hazard. Yeah, it wasn’t exactly ideal, obviously, coming back and being one shot up.
But at the same time, you know, like I told Jimmy walking up to 17 tee, I was like, we would have taken this spot before the week started. I was still playing great. I was hitting a lot of good shots. It was just a lot slimmer lead than it could have been.
And then shot on 17 was definitely the best shot I hit this week. It was really, really steep downslope. I probably would have hit driver if I wouldn’t have gone through the fairway yesterday. But it just wasn’t worth nuking one and getting a big bounce, and going in the hazard is the last thing you want. It wasn’t realistic. It probably wouldn’t have happened. I did hit a great 3-wood and I had 8-iron in.
There’s just a tree that’s a little slanted, and it’s a perfect aiming point every day for my second shot. I just kind of aimed it there and made sure I held on to the club, if anything, to make sure my miss was right. And I just tried to make sure I got tilted with the hook and I didn’t chunk it, and really, I just flushed it, and as soon as it came off, I knew it was going to be perfect.
6. Going back to 15, I walked to Jimmy and he said you didn’t say a word about it and you completely moved on. Would you have done that two years ago, do you think?
THOMAS: Probably not. I probably would still be out there crying or whining about it.
That’s the thing, obviously it would have been different if I was one — if I had a one-shot lead and I did that to go 1-down. That changes things a lot. But I still would like to hope that I would have been that calm and that patient, just because I think what helped — y’all probably won’t believe me, but I didn’t really feel like it was from nerves. I felt very comfortable.
The only time I felt something the last couple holes, it was like Malaysia. 17 and 18 is the only time you can feel something on the putts. At least it was for me.
I felt like I was going to hit a good shot. Obviously wasn’t a good swing; I did something. I still knew that I could get that up-and-down for par. Although I end up making double, I still had a one shot thread with three to go. And then I have a wedge can, and 17 is I guess is a birdie opportunity if I can hit a good drive, and 18 I can get to in two. I was like, I thought I would just play these last three holes 1-under or 2-under, take our chances, see what happens.
7. How do you channel that into a positive? And secondly, first week of January, two weeks under your belt, do you reset goals or are they already set pretty high to start with?
THOMAS: They were set high, but I mean, I still have plenty of other goals that I would like to achieve and stuff that’s over the long-term, the course of the year.
But winning twice in the first four events helps, for sure. Sounds kind of nice now that I just said that out loud. I feel like, you know, we’ll sit back, we’ll enjoy this tonight, this afternoon. Although, I have a six-hour POLO photo shoot tomorrow morning; so it’s not going to be anything too crazy tonight.
But I’m going to have to regroup and focus on next week, because next week is a course that I really like and I feel like another good opportunity for me to be in the hunt and have a chance to win.
I think that’s where I’m growing a little bit more in that it’s week-to-week. It’s not looking at previous weeks when I’m at a tournament or looking at following events when I’m at a tournament; it’s I am focusing on that week. And once it’s over, take the positives, try to blow over the negatives and go on to the next.
8. Talking to you last year at Hilton Head, you said you did not feel you had under-achieved but you felt you could have done more and it didn’t help that the media was going on about what other young players had done and you couldn’t help but see that. Has it pushed you or changed you? How have you come to grips with that the last eight to ten months?
THOMAS: I think it drove me a lot. It’s weird, I mean, some of my good friends, I mean, I’m never — trying to think how I’m going to word this (laughter).
I wasn’t mad, but it was maybe a little frustrating sometimes seeing some friends and peers my age do well. Not because I wasn’t cheering for them because I feel like I was as good as them. It’s just immature of me. I mean, the fact of the matter is, over the course of a long career, we’re going to beat each other. That’s just how it is.
I think now, I feel so much more comfortable. I really do. I think that that win in Malaysia, not the first one, but this last one, was huge, because I never played with a lead like that before. Obviously I was four back going into the day, but I mean, I had a multiple-shot lead I think on most of the back nine, and that was tough for me.
I had never been in that position, and that helped me a lot here today, because it’s a similar course, places you need to make a lot of birdies, places you’re building, not holding off the lead, if that makes sense.
I just feel like, maybe the first time in Malaysia when I won when I was in there, I was maybe kind of like, you know, what am I doing here, but now it’s like, okay, I belong here, I should be here. Now use the past experiences to my advantage and kind of go from there, sort of thing, I guess.
9. You made a good run at The Ryder Cup Team last year. Surely you wanted to make it badly with Davis Love there and everything. What did you pull out of that experience of the last couple months, and how tough was it with the pressure and everything? What did you learn out of that?
THOMAS: Yeah, that was the No. 1 goal I had last year, and that really, really hurt not making that team. I had a great opportunity. I should have if I just would have played like I know I could have or how I felt like I should have.
But I just was thinking about it too much, and I put too much heat on myself. But I mean, I played — I played well at Barclays. I mean, I had a great week at THE PLAYERS. I just didn’t have enough for quality weeks. I had too much inconsistency.
But I was really proud of myself how I played in Atlanta. I felt like that Sunday, and I don’t know how close it was — but I really felt like if I had posted a good number on Sunday, I had a great chance to make that team. I felt like it was a lot more pressure than having to win a golf tournament because of how bad I wanted to be on that team. I just love those team events and I just love that kind of brotherhood and those things that you have as a team together, and just wanted to be a part of it.
I felt like I handled adversity well and I handled the pressure well. Just didn’t play well enough.
10. Was there a time earlier or any time in your career where you had a decent lead and it shrunk and you feared blowing it?
THOMAS: Today? Today count? I mean, it entered my mind, for sure.
Yeah, it wasn’t like — it entered my mind. It wasn’t like, oh, crap, I can’t blow this, sort of thing. More like, man, this would suck, sort of thing, I guess you could say (laughing).
I felt confident. I felt like I was still going to get it done. But I’m trying to think if I did any in college — my ball was in the air in Malaysia and hit the cart path. I immediately saw it sticking in a tree — but I had a four-shot lead or something. I thought, I could at least make 7 and get in the house. I think that’s it. Today, probably.
SOURCES/CREDITS: ASAP SPORTS, GETTY IMAGES