With an incredible comeback after trailing by eight shots at one point, Justin Thomas wins the playoff against Will Zalatoris and the Wanamaker Trophy for the second time after 2017 at Quail Hollow. In an interview afterwards, the winner of the 2022 PGA Championship talks about the exciting final round, the significance of the victory for him and Tiger Woods, who certainly has something to grief about.
Question: Justin, you told us that on Wednesday you were kind of lost, working through your swing with your father on the range, and then you bogeyed the third hole today and you were eight shots back. How did you go from those depths to these heights that you’re standing here with us today?
Justin Thomas: I mean, a lot of self-belief, a lot of patience. I wasn’t looking at leaderboards today. I was just trying to play golf. It kind of goes back to what I said on Thursday of just not trying to play golf swing, not trying to play the field, not trying to play to a certain person really.
Just trying to execute each shot as well as I could, and then wherever it ended up, just give my club to Bones and let’s move on and try to do the best we can on the next one. He did an unbelievable job of keeping me in the moment and keeping me patient today, and yeah, it just is an unbelievable team win for all of us.
Q. Coming into the day, did you think that 5-under would be good enough, and I know you said you weren’t looking at leaderboards, but at what point did you think, okay, I have a chance to win this thing?
Justin Thomas: As soon as I found out I was going to be in a playoff. When I missed the putt on 18 in regulation, I looked at the leaderboard and saw, and I had a pretty good feeling that that putt was pretty important. I hit a really good putt, just hit it a little, little too hard.
I didn’t know what the score was going to be. I kind of looked at a leaderboard last night, just kind of looked at — surveyed it, I guess took one last look at it, if you will. There’s a lot of great players ahead of me, but I know that they hadn’t won a major before, and I know I hadn’t won in a while.
But I just remember how tough it was, and I remember how tough it is now to win, so I knew I was going to be nervous and I knew they’d be feeling the exact same thing. I thought I probably needed to get to 6 or 7 to have a chance, but I also didn’t know. I just as well knew 2 or 3 could be in a playoff. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. Yeah, just glad, stayed patient, and kind of went about my way.
Q. Your dad mentioned that on the range last night Bones kind of gave you a tough-love conversation. Can you share a little bit more about that, and also, was it stuff like that why you really wanted him to come out of retirement and caddie for you?
Justin Thomas: Yeah, I’m fully confident in saying that I wouldn’t be standing here if he didn’t give me that — wasn’t necessarily a speech, but a talk, if you will.
I just needed to let some steam out. I didn’t need to bring my frustration and anger home with me. I didn’t need to leave the golf course in a negative frame of mind. I just went down — I played pretty well yesterday for shooting 4-over, and I felt like I’d played terrible. And he was just like, dude, you’ve got to be stop being so hard on yourself. You’re in contention every single week we’re playing.
I’ve had a lot of chances to win tournaments, and it’s a hard golf course; it’s a major championship. You don’t have to be perfect. Just don’t be hard on yourself. Just kind of let stuff happen, and everything is trending in the right direction. So just keep staying positive so that good stuff can happen.
I left here in an awesome frame of mind. It was very — I think the last player here, it was like this out right now, it was so peaceful. It was almost kind of eerie how beautiful it was outside, and there’s not very many times after shooting 4-over on Saturday of a major I left in as good a frame of mind as I have.
“Best bogey in my life”
Q. You’ve got the trophy, but what happened on No. 6 tee?
Justin Thomas: I shanked it. Just — I just cold shanked it. I don’t really know how else to say it. It was the best bogey I’ve ever made in my life, that’s for sure.
Q. The weather changed so much over the course of the four rounds; I know that adds to the toughness over four days, but you ended up with a pretty beautiful day. How much different did it play from day-to-day?
Justin Thomas: Well, I don’t think I’ve ever played — I mean, a non-Open Championship. I’ve never played it so severe — because when we played Friday morning, it was howling out of the south, and then yesterday it was cold and howling out of the north. That doesn’t happen often, let alone in a major championship and at a place like this.
It just brought out another side of everybody. It challenged us, and I was excited for that because, although I would have loved to have seen this place in a north wind, I hadn’t before. But at the same time, I’m sure a lot of guys hadn’t either. It was just about — it probably helped that I hadn’t been here that often because it was a lot easier to throw the past two rounds of memory out and just almost take each hole from scratch for what it was.
It was very, very tough, but everybody had to deal with the same kind of stuff.
Favorite Major is the next one
Q. Can you speak to how special it is to win the PGA of America’s Major Championship considering your father and your grandfather?
Justin Thomas: Yeah, it’s very, very special. I’m pleased. At this point any of them is great; I don’t care which one it is. As Tom Brady always says, your favorite Super Bowl is your next one, and that’s what my favorite major is. And at this moment, it’s definitely this guy right here.
Yeah, I’m looking forward to talking to my grandma. I’m sure she was watching.
I know somewhere up there, Grandpa was definitely watching today and pulling for me. It’s very, very cool to be able to share this moment with my family.
Q. In what ways are you a better golfer now than when you won your first major championship?
Justin Thomas: I mean, I’ve matured a lot. Five years is a long time, especially at this stage of my life. I would like to think and hope that everything has just gotten a little better. There’s nothing that’s like standing out of a massive difference. I would say the biggest difference is I probably just weigh about 15 pounds more, I don’t know; I’ve put on some weight.
That’s just the big part of it is you just want to get 1 percent better. I don’t need to revamp everything. I don’t need to hit it 30 yards farther. I don’t need to change equipment, change ball, change — it’s just everything that I have and been doing has been working. It’s just trying to just get it a little bit better. I just feel like that’s what I’ve done in every facet.
There’s nothing that stands out, like this is monumentally better. But it’s all improved. (…) my putting for instance, it won me this golf tournament this week in many ways, and you had to have a complete game. So there was all facets were working at different times.
Justin Thomas: “I’m on top of the golfing world”
Q. I was going to say, we know how much you love to needle your friends out here on Tour. You just joined Rory with two PGA Championships. How much are you looking forward to trash talking with some of your buddies out here after this, and also with Tiger and Charlie, as well?
Justin Thomas: I mean, this is a good moment where the trophy can speak for itself. I don’t need to necessarily bring it up on my own. I’m very fortunate right now that although there might be people ranked higher than me in the World Ranking, but at least in my eyes, I’m on top of the golfing world right now, and I’m very, very proud of that. I think I’ll let the trophy and the week speak for itself.
Q. You mentioned the challenges of just coming down the stretch in a major championship. Obviously a lot of guys felt the pressure today. How much did you feel that pressure today, and was there some freedom of chasing from behind?
Justin Thomas: Well, again, I didn’t look at a leaderboard, so I didn’t know where I necessarily was. I think when I made the birdie on 12, there’s just different roars, different energy that you can feel sometimes, and I felt that that one was pretty big. I didn’t hit a very good wedge shot in there, but left it in a good spot and was able to make that putt.
I could just kind of feel the energy. I got a little bit of goosebumps when that went in. Just like, all right, I don’t know where I’m at, but I’m in striking distance.
Yeah, I was obviously nervous. Walking up 18, I wanted to make that putt. But you’d like to have a little straighter, easier uphill putt than a putt breaking a foot and a half, two feet, going away from you. But it all worked out just fine.
Q. From your own opinion, I think you were the only player in the last seven groups to tee off who broke par. How much of that would you attribute to the difficulty of the conditions and pins and what-have-you, and frankly, to the nerves, given so much lack of experience out there, major experience?
Justin Thomas: I would say the golf course and the wind probably 80 percent, and I would say the difficulty of winning a golf tournament and a major, 20 percent, if I had to put a number on it. I mean, it was tough.
Again, the north wind just made it a little bit more difficult, and it was kind of switching a little bit to east. It was northeast, but it kind of was getting a little bit more easterly. So having to try to factor that in.
It’s a simple thing like a little hole like drivable on 17. Obviously you hit a great tee shot, you hit it where you want to go, then you’re looking at birdie. But if you maybe double-cross it over in the back left rough, or if you kind of heel one and it kicks down in the hazard — so quickly out here can a birdie hole turn into salvaging for bogey.
I think that’s just why — that’s one of the reasons I love this place when I first came here. I think it’s a great major championship venue.
Q. What would you say was the difference in your nerves between here and Quail given you were always kind of in the mix at Quail, and you started today, I think you said, “I can’t believe I’m in a playoff,” or something like that. Probably misquoted you.
Justin Thomas: Yeah, I think they were different. I was very calm today. I was very calm in the playoff. I was calm the last couple holes.
I felt like I could do what I wanted to do, which is really all I could ask for. Again, I couldn’t control what anybody else was going to do.
I think it was a different kind of nerves. It was a nerves just for being in the moment versus like I think on 17, it was maybe like nerves as to what’s going to happen and not knowing the outcome, and I want to win my first major.
They’re both very up there, but different kind of nerves.
PGA Championship 2022: Fighting allergies to major win
Q. Just describe the moment from being wheels down in Tulsa, what your week was like in this city, at this club.
Justin Thomas: Yeah, I got my butt kicked by allergies more than I think I ever have in my entire life early this week. Tuesday I wasn’t sure if I was even going to play a practice round. I felt terrible. I thought I had a sinus infection coming. Maybe I did, I don’t know.
But luckily got some medicine in me, got a bunch of rest. I definitely altered my practice schedule just to try to get as much rest as I could and just try to start feeling better.
Then once I started to finally feel better, it decided to be like 55 degrees and windy out, so that didn’t really help my cause. I don’t know, maybe I need to get really bad allergies more often.
Q. Can you describe what it feels like to sort of live the childhood dream of: This is a huge pressure moment, I have to hit this shot like 17 in the playoff? That’s really hard. You did it and executed it. What does that feel like to you?
Justin Thomas: It’s just awesome. I don’t know, really, how else to describe it other than that. I mean, that iron shot on 18 in regulation, like that’s why I play golf. Like that’s why I practice.
All the hours and everything and the time put in, you want to be in that scenario. You want to be in that situation: With the backdrop of the whole gallery up there, knowing that I’m in contention; I have a decent chance to win this tournament; probably one of the hardest, if not the hardest hole on the course.
And I hit a great drive down there, and to be able to just flag an 8-iron like that when I know in my head I needed to make birdie, it’s awesome. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a full-body-chills-type of feeling.
Thomas on Pereira und Woods
Q. The Championship is well earned, of course, but do you feel for Mito at all with the wheels coming off like that?
Justin Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you don’t — you want to win a golf tournament. You don’t want someone to lose it.
And I think, I mean, I had many, not exactly like that, but I have had times in my career when I feel like I’ve let a tournament get away. And I mean, it’s brutal. It’s not fun.
But at the same time, if you’re able to channel that and look back at it later or whenever the time is when you’re kind of, I guess, calmed down and to reflect, he’ll be able to learn from it and be better from it.
He played unbelievable golf this week. There’s no reason to hang his head. Yeah, I never saw him this week. I don’t really know him that well. I never got to talk to him or anything. But he played great.
There’s however many people were in this field, everybody else would have traded places with him on that 18th tee for sure to have a chance to win.
Q. You and Tiger are the last two to win major championships here; I don’t know that that necessarily makes it more special, but is that meaningful at all? What does that mean to you?
Justin Thomas: Yes, I think now I only have like 150 other things to do that he’s done to where he can stop giving me grief. So I guess it’s just a steppingstone.
I mean, the list of champions at this place I think kind of speaks for itself. When you get good golf courses like this, you don’t — you hate to say a fluke win, whatever, but it seems like you have to know your way around. You just have to play golf and you have to execute.
I think being on the list of champions at this golf course is very, very special because all those others have been able to do that, and it’s definitely nice doing it after he did it in ’07.
Q. As a close friend to Tiger, how tough was it to see him struggle this week? And in a way do you feel like he cleared the stage for you to be here and he’s celebrating back home?
Justin Thomas: I mean, I wouldn’t say how tough it was to see him struggle. I mean, he made the cut in his second major in a row, what, a year and a half after being in a gruesome car accident, broken leg? I don’t think you guys understand how unbelievable that is. He’s a freak of nature. It’s mind-blowing the things that he can do with his mind.
I didn’t play during his prime, but from the times I’ve been out here and him winning the Masters in ’19 and winning the TOUR Championship, him making the cut these last two tournaments for how — some of the conditions he was in last year, it’s absurd. Like beyond absurd.
Yeah, I talked to him a little last night and asked how he was feeling, and he just said he was feeling terrible because my name kept dropping on the leaderboard.
So I was like, “Thanks, good to talk to you too, I’ll talk to you later.”
Q. Do you feel he’s celebrating right now, and have you talked to him?
Justin Thomas: I don’t know, I’m sure he probably will give me a hard time for shanking it. I should have made the putt on 18. Shouldn’t have been in a playoff. I don’t know, he’ll always find something to give me grief about.
(Interview via ASAP Sports)