Justin Thomas is 23. He’s facing the daunting task of playing his second U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. But the moment doesn’t feel too big for him. He’s been competing since he was eight years old, piling up wins in junior tournaments. In 2010, he made it to the finals of the U.S. Junior Amateur, losing to Jim Liu. He got over the disappointment the following year by winning the first tournament he played in at the University of Alabama, where he went on to win the 2012 Haskins Award as the nation’s top collegiate player and led the Crimson Tide to the NCAA team title in 2013.
Thomas turned professional after playing for the victorious USA Walker Cup Team in 2013. Last fall, he earned his first PGA Tour victory with a one-shot win over Adam Scott in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. This year, Thomas finished T-3 at The Players Championship on the strength of a final-round 65 and is ready to tackle the challenge of his second U.S. Open.
Thomas sat with Fox Sports golf announcer Shane O’Donoghue for a lively conversation on his game, his future, his famous spring break with a few of his famous pals and his hopes for winning the 116thth U.S. Open. He then answered questions from USGA members and signed autographs and posed for photos with the appreciative audience. Here are the highlights from his session in the USGA Member Clubhouse:
On Oakmont: “I played the course when I was 17, but I hope I am a little better player now… I played it about a month ago with Rickie Fowler and Smylie Kaufman. It is in immaculate condition, firm and fast. It’s a U.S. Open course for a reason. It is a totally different mindset. You just try to minimize mistakes and survive.”
On golf: “I just love the game. My grandfather, Paul Thomas, was a pro. My dad, Mike, is a professional and is the only coach I have ever had. I have been playing since I was two and they have been so helpful. I really liked it, and then I thought it was pretty cool when I won some junior tournaments, so I just kept going. Winning the national championship at Alabama was awesome and it just felt it was the right time to turn pro. It’s been a blast.”
On his standing among the top young players: “I am not usually among the top names mentioned, but I have been working really hard. It was good to finally win and to have some good finishes. Now I just need to be consistent. I hope it’s coming…”
On playing for his country: "I had such a great experience playing in the Walker Cup and I really want to play in the Ryder Cup. All I can do is play my best and hope that it earns me a spot on the team."
On winning the U.S. Open: “I know I am young, but I know that I am patient. Over the history of the U.S. Open here, some players have made impressive numbers. I just have to let good things happen and, when bad things happen, try not to make any worse than bogey so I can stay in it. I have been dreaming of it ever since I saw Tiger win in 2000.”
On the 288-yard par-3 8th hole: “My caddie and I were joking about it today and wondering if we should lay up off the tee to have a good shot at getting up and down for par. Honestly, it is a generous green and if they move the tees up a little, maybe I could accidentally make a birdie. That would be like a hole-in-one – but then I would have to go on to the 9th, which is even harder!”
On the Church Pew bunkers: “I was lucky enough to hit a practice shot out of them today. Honestly, I think they might be easier to hit out of than some of the rough I saw out there.”
On his love for social media: “It’s fun to do and I enjoy showing people what we like to do. I think it’s so cool that people are interested in me, so I try to have fun and connect with the people who respond to the things I post on Instagram and Snapchat. None of us [Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Smylie Kaufman] ever thought we would get so much attention for our Spring Break trip, but it gave us a great opportunity to put the Masters behind us. None of us were happy about how we played there, so we got away from it all and all our followers seemed to have fun with us!”
David Chmiel is manager of member content for the USGA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.