Justin Thomas said it was “weird” to pull into the parking lot at TPC Scottsdale this week and not see the massive grandstands that typically welcome hundreds of thousands of fans to the Waste Management Open each year.
From a silver lining perspective, Thomas might benefit from not having throngs of partying fans throwing verbal barbs his direction. The world’s third-ranked player will make his first start in the mainland United States since uttering a homophobic slur caught on television during the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii last month.
The backlash was swift and severely damaging to the 27-year-old’s previously pristine reputation. He lost Ralph Lauren as his apparel sponsor and has spent the past month vowing to learn and grow from the situation.
Thomas finished third in Hawaii, his seventh consecutive top-15 finish. However, he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago in his first start since the incident in Hawaii.
Thomas has finished third at the Waste Management Open each of the past two years and is seeking his first win in seven starts at TPC Scottsdale.
“Clearly it’s been a distraction,” Thomas said Tuesday. “I think that kind of speaks for itself. But the biggest thing that I’ve learned from it is that I made a mistake and that I have a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow from it, just like I do in my golf game, just like I do in my everyday life.
“This is a part of my everyday life, and I have the opportunity to try to turn this into a positive and learn and grow from it as much as I possibly can.”
Thomas likened working on himself personally to working on his golf game, calling it an “ongoing process.” He continues to talk to family, friends and even sponsors about diversity and inclusion issues.
“It’s stuff like that that kind of has really kept me upbeat and kept me in a great mood and kept me very optimistic about the growth that I can have,” Thomas said. “I will say that I apologized many times for what I said, but I didn’t publicly say, which I feel terrible about, that I didn’t apologize to the people that were affected and offended by what I said, and I feel like I should take the time now to say that.
“But yeah, as a whole everything has been going well.”
On the course, Thomas is working to close out more tournaments and turn high finishes similar to last year’s third place at TPC Scottsdale into victories.
He lost in a dramatic three-hole playoff at the Workday Open to Collin Morikawa, who bested Thomas by three shots in the final round. A win at the WGC-Fed Ex-St. Jude Invitational has been followed by several more close calls.
Patrick Cantlay outplayed Thomas by four shots on Sunday to win the Zozo Championship in October and Thomas finished solo fourth at the Masters. He carded four rounds in the 60s in Hawaii, but finished in solo third one shot behind winner Harris English and Joaquin Niemann, who lost in a playoff.
“There definitely was some events in the fall that I would have liked to have finished off a lot better. Kapalua, as well,” he said. “I feel overall my game is getting closer. It’s getting better.
“It’s not exactly where I’d like it with the off week that I had. So hopefully it’ll just continue to get better every day to where we’re in a good spot coming on Saturday and Sunday.”
–Field Level Media