“You’re on mute,” Justin Thomas told one accomplished reporter, waiting patiently. Then he started cracking up. “You’re still on mute.”
The video cut in and out. The questions came from some reporters on site — masked-up and backlit in the media center — and others from couches and desks at home. Thomas was the guinea pig for the PGA Tour’s first “new” press conference (shoutout Microsoft Teams!) but he was patient with any hiccups.
This is the complex world that Thomas was just beginning to grapple with when he gave his last presser, which came in person at Ponte Vedra Beach nearly three months ago.
“At this point I’m just worried about trying to get home right now and figure out what I’m going to do for a couple weeks and wonder what I’m preparing for next. It’s just a wild, wild time right now,” he said then.
Fast-forward three months and Thomas was at the mic again, continually acknowledging the changes that now exist. He said “different” 15 different times. Two of those times, for context:
“It’s going to be different. I mean, I think that’s the thing that I was trying to get across to people is that you can’t go into this thinking it’s going to be normal because it’s not. 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. If we all want to get back and play the game that we love, 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.”
Thomas said he’d passed every checkpoint thus far without trouble. He got tested and approved. He got his pass to access the locker room, and the clubhouse, and player dining. He got his instructor pass for his father, who doubles as his coach. The only thing he has left is picking up his gloves and golf balls — Titleist on both counts — and he called the entire process “very, very easy.” That’s a good start.
To keep things as simple as possible on site, Thomas is planning to keep his housing, his roommates and his diet consistent over the coming months. This week, that means renting a house that includes Rickie Fowler, Fowler’s wife Allison Stokke and Jason Dufner.
“We have a chef with us who’s going to be there every single week, we have him for the next three weeks, and Rickie and I are sharing houses, so we just had dinner at the house last night,” Thomas said. “We’re having pretty much every meal in the house.”
Sharing a house with Fowler and Dufner is hardly a new phenomenon — Thomas and Fowler roomed together most recently at the Players and more famously at the Open Championship — but now the shared lodging has additional benefits in terms of safety, consistency and control.
“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 — and Rickie, Allison, 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,” he 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.”
In all, Thomas said, he was excited for a return to competition, adapted though it may be. He missed seeing his golf friends, he realized. Life on Tour is, to borrow his word, different.
“I mean, golf is so weird that we have — you hate to say different groups of friends, but you really do. You have people at home, your friends you grew up with, family, whatever it is. Then you have these guys and caddies and wives, girlfriends, kids of different players that you spend probably over half your year with. I’m glad to be back out and I’m glad to see a lot of familiar faces, media and officials.
“I mean, this is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life, and it’s what I’ve loved to do forever, and it’s nice to be back out playing competitive golf again.”