Thomas savours Players win after “a crappy couple months”

John Craven

Justin Thomas salutes the crowd at TPC Sawgrass (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

John Craven

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An emotional Justin Thomas was thrilled to put “a crappy couple months” in the rear-view mirror by capturing The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

The new world number two carded a closing four-under par 68 to set the clubhouse target at 14-under par and ultimately pipped England’s Lee Westwood by a single stroke to golf’s so-called fifth Major. At just 27, Thomas has earned his 14th PGA Tour title from 165 starts, becoming just the fourth player since 1960 to win 14 times on the PGA Tour before turning 28, joining Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller in a mighty four-ball.

It’s also a result that sees Thomas bank $2.7million, but more than the financial reward, the prestige of winning such a trophy or the ranking points on offer was the peace of mind such a victory can bring, and in Thomas’ case, a bit of good news was badly needed.

Since a homophobic slur was picked up on a hot mic in January, it’s been a tumultuous year for Thomas. Getting dropped by sponsor lead Ralph Lauren and feeling the scorn of social media was one thing, but true loss was quite another and the death of his Granddad last month at the age of 89 hit JT hard. That, coupled with the horrific car crash involving one of his best friends, Tiger Woods, has meant there’s been little good news on the horizon of late for the American, until now, with the emotion of the win flowing out of Thomas post-round.

“It’s been a crappy couple months,” Thomas admitted. “I’ve had stuff happen in my life I never thought I’d have happen, and I mean, losing grandpa was terrible, and having to play a round of golf dealing with that, and then on top of that not playing well, it just was a lot, and it took a lot on me mentally.

“At the same time, that’s just the way that it was. I had to figure it out and had to get over it, and if I wanted to come to these tournaments and have a chance to win, then I needed to suck it up and get over it. If I wanted to throw a pity party for myself or feel sorry for myself, there’s no reason to show up, and I can stay home until I feel like I’m ready.

“I felt like I was in a good enough head space where I could play. I just wasn’t playing well. And then once I wasn’t playing well, it was kind of snowballing. This week was huge to win a big championship like this in front of fans again, which is incredible. It tested me mentally, physically, emotionally, and I’m very proud of myself for getting it done.”

We’ve heard a lot in recent weeks about the impact of no crowds on Tour and the change of atmosphere now that limited capacity attendances are being permitted. For Thomas, who won the WGC-St Jude last year in front of no crowds in Memphis, closing out the tournament under the pressure that only fans can bring made victory all the sweeter on Sunday at Sawgrass.

“It’s not even remotely close,” he said of the nerve levels involved when crowds are present watching you trying to close out a tournament. “I can’t even attempt to explain it. It’s like having a money game with your buddies and then it’s like playing in front of 10,000 people. It’s hard to explain. But you’re nervous. Like you want to win the tournament when there’s no fans and you feel it, but the things that I felt out there today and those last couple holes is something that I haven’t felt in a really long time because of all this, in over a year, probably since like Mexico last year.

“It’s just bizarre. The hair on my arms and neck and legs were standing straight up walking to 17 green, and to have to play five to eight yards for adrenaline just because of the fans and the moment on 17 and 18 and other holes, it’s stuff that’s so hard to explain. But it felt great. I mean, that’s why we all play. That’s why we all do this.”

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