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Tiger, trophies and staying sane: JT’s 13 lessons from a player-of-the-year season

December 12, 2017

What did Justin Thomas learn during his epic 2017? Here are the highlights, as told to the staff of GOLF.

1. Send Tiger a friend request.

“A few years ago, I reached out to him [to talk] a little bit about Augusta. I figured between him and Mr. Nicklaus, there weren’t really any better brains to pick. So after talking to him, we just stayed in touch. Being in Jupiter [where I live], we get together every once in a while to play golf or go for dinner. I’ve been fortunate he’s taken a liking to me. He’s motivating to me. It’s cool how he’s been pulling for me.”

2. When you celebrate your win at the PGA Championship, loop Tiger in.

“It just was cool. There were many things [about the win] that were unbelievable, but enjoying it with someone that I’ve looked up to for so long, and someone that was a role model of mine growing up—it was surreal, honestly.”

3. But if he teases, “Hey, nice major. Thirteen more and you’ll catch up to me,” don’t answer back.

“I think he understands what getting the first one means—and what getting any of “em mean. But if I start talking trash with him, he has a pretty good [comeback].”

4. When you win the Wanamaker Trophy, take it with you everywhere (if you can lift the thing).

“I can’t wait to go to Tuscaloosa with it. I can’t wait to go to Alabama for a football game and take the trophy; take it to some of my favorite restaurants, favorite bars, to people I’ve developed a great relationship with, like Coach Saban. See the football team. And then take it home to Louisville— to my high school, my home golf course…”

5. If you plan to drink from a major-championship trophy, def go with the Wanamaker.

“It’s the one. You can fit a lot of liquid in there.”

6. But don’t knock the Claret Jug.

“It makes for a great wine decanter.”

7. When choosing between “Hey, I won the PGA, now I have to win more majors” and “Hey, who cares? I’ve already won my major,” choose neither.

“I never planned on stopping at one. I hope to win many more than that. But at the same time, I want to just focus on the next event; to focus on what I’m doing. And when I’m not playing golf, I’m not focused on anything having to do with golf.”

8. If, for the hundredth time in a week, a reporter asks you how a 145-pound guy can drive the ball 320 yards, don’t answer, “It’s simple.” Because it’s not.

“A lot goes into it. Obviously, form, in general, is [key]. Being able to use the ground well; hitting it solid; making sure you’re optimizing your launch and carry. But a lot of it is what I’m doing away from the course: the training, and the therapy before and after [a round]. Getting stronger where I need to.”

9. A regular massage helps — but not one of those smooth-jazz deals

“Although it’s a massage, it’s definitely more deep tissue-ish, and there are times where it doesn’t feel quite as good. But at the end of the day, there’s a reason it doesn’t feel good, and because of it, when you’re playing two, three, four weeks in a row, you’re able to feel proper— your body’s feeling good. That’s what we want.”

10. The tank is Occasionally on “E.”

“Being tired and mentally fatigued — that’s gonna happen the first couple of days after a win.”

11. Ergo, hitting balls can lose its appeal.

“I used to not be able to go a day or two without practicing, but now I have no problem. If you told me to not touch a club for a week, I’d be fine with it. We play a lot of golf, and I love every second of it. But it’s also important to get away.”

12. It’s all in the name of staying hungry.

“That’s something I’ll never have a problem with. I’ve always had high expectations for myself — and at times it’s gotten me in trouble, because I put a lot of heat on myself. But I’ve gotten better at understanding that I’m not gonna win every week; I’m not gonna play great every week or finish great every week. I’ve just got to keep working hard, but also getting rest, because you never know what’s gonna happen over the course of a season.”

13. Staying sane is a win, too.

“As I said, I’m hard on myself. I want it so badly I’m almost trying to will my way to good golf — and you can’t do that. In the past, I’d be so mad [if I ended up] in a bad wave that I’d really have a hard time. Each shot, each round felt so live-or-die, and it’s draining. Now, I’m more accepting that it is what it is. I just play the best I can. There are still gonna be times when I get in those moods, but hopefully it [won’t be] nearly as often. Just being more patient and accepting has made things easier.”