Justin Thomas admits he’s been very surprised watching Rory McIlroy’s fairway struggles over the past year but believes a combination of talent and hard work means it won’t be long before he’s back winning tournaments on golf’s biggest stage.
The American was speaking ahead of this week’s Valspar Championship where Graeme McDowell is the only Irishman in the field and Dustin Johnson shares pre-tournament favouritism with Thomas.
“Yeah, I’m very surprised. I think we all are,” Thomas said of his good friend’s form. “Rory is one of the most talented golfers I’ve ever played with, but I think something that is very underrated and people don’t realise is how hard he works.
“I mean, he’s out there a lot, puts in a lot, a lot, a lot of hours, and he’s very similar to me to where he always wants to get better, probably to the point where it hurts him at times, like it does myself. I’ve often spent time with my putting or my golf swing trying to perfect it when in reality I just need to make work with what I have.”
Thomas has been a long time student of his own father, Mike, a PGA pro who has helped him to second spot on the World Rankings. That’s not to say it’s always been smooth sailing between player and coach and having sought counsel with other instructors over the years, with the consent of his dad, Thomas sees no issue that McIlroy has chosen to enlist the aid of swing coach Pete Cowen to help return him to the peak of his powers.
“I have no issue with him getting another opinion,” Thomas added. “I mean, that’s something that we’ve always talked about, my dad and I. It’s like, you don’t need to necessarily completely change and go change coaches and trainers, but it’s like, ‘hey, if you feel like something isn’t working’ — my dad has always said that if we couldn’t figure something out in the golf swing.
“We did it with Matt back in the day when I worked with Matt Killen on my putting; if my dad was like, ‘hey, I just can’t figure out quite why he’s doing this, can you look at this’. It’s just having that second opinion, and sometimes hearing it said a different way just clicks for you, but then sometimes altogether a different coach just might — the methods and theories might make more sense to you.
“He’s clearly got to do what’s best for his game. He’s not just doing it because ‘I was playing poorly with this coach and I just need to change coaches because I’ll start playing better’.
“It’s like, he likes what he’s saying. But the thing about Rory is I know he’s going to work through it and he’s going to win a lot more tournaments and a lot more majors. I still and always will have maybe more respect for him than anybody because he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met for how much success he’s had.”
Thursday’s tee-times (Irish time)
- 5.38pm – Graeme McDowell
- 6.11pm – Justin Thomas
- Full scoring HERE