Justin Thomas, the latest big name to be confirmed for the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club in July, reckons players will not be afraid to speak out if they believe the USGA makes a mess of the US Open again.
Speaking as it was revealed he is set to make his debut in the Rolex Series event on the East Lothian coast in a field that will also include Rory McIlroy, Thomas was responding to a Golf Digest report which claimed McIlroy and Dustin Johnson were among the players who considered a boycott of the 2017 US Open.
That action was contemplated after the event had been beset by problems, including the greens at Chambers Bay in 2015 being likened to “putting on broccoli” by Henrik Stenson, as well as a bizzare handling of a rules decision 12 months later at Oakmont that left the eventual winner, Dustin Johnson, unsure of what his score was with only seven holes to play.
The USGA, which runs the major, admitted they went “too far” with the set-up of Shinnecock Hills last year after only three players broke par in the third round, in which Phil Mickelson lost the plot as he hit a moving ball on the 13th green.
“I think it’s pretty obvious on where I stand with the USGA,” said world No6 Thomas about having had a spat with the game’s governing body on the other side of the Atlantic over rules changes introduced at the start of the year.
“We’ve had our difficulties the last six months or whatever it is,” he added.
“But my frustration with them and the set-up of the US Open is just how the PGA Tour does such a great job in setting up the golf tournaments the entire year, and you know, we feel like the US Open kind of gets away from us or gets out of hand almost every year.
“We play these amazing golf courses like Shinnecock or Oakmont or Merion or whatever it might be, where the golf courses don’t need tricked up. They don’t need to be set up any harder than they already are. Yet, we feel like one day gets out of hand, and we end up losing the course or something, and that’s not really fair or what any of us want. That’s the frustration from my side.
“At the end of the day, the US Open is a major and I’m always going to play in it. I can get over the fact of not liking a couple holes in a set-up to try to win a major.”
Asked if he felt a boycott could still be on the table at some point in the future if things get out of hand again at Pebble Beach, where the season’s third major takes place in a fortnight’s time, the 2017 US PGA champion added: “I’m not sure. I think there was talk very briefly, but I think that was pretty early in my career to where I definitely did not feel comfortable having really a voice of opinion in that.
“I think the last year or so, it’s been good for the game because guys are becoming a little bit more outspoken and honest.
“We never want to come off as complaining or bratty, if you will. But, at the end of the day, this is what we do and we want to make sure it’s as good as possible and fair.
“Sometimes it’s hard for everybody else and other people to understand it. But, at the end of the day, I think we’re getting to the point now where if stuff gets out of control, we don’t feel like we have to hold back anymore. We can kind of say how we feel.”
Thomas, who is back in action in The Memorial on the PGA Tour this week after missing the US PGA Championship a fortnight ago due to a wrist injury, admits compatriot Brooks Koepka will be the man to beat after winning four majors in eight starts.
“Brooks is an unbelievable player, and I would say his confidence and his swagger probably trumps his golf even,” said Thomas, who will be making his debut in the ASI Scottish Open in a field that is also set to include Stenson, Matt Kuchar and Scottish No 1 Russell Knox.
“He’s tough to beat when he’s playing well. You know, all the best players in the world go on runs. I’m not saying that his is ending or going to end. If he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s going to win majors for a long time. But I mean, I did it in 2017 and in 2018. Jordan [Spieth] did it. J-Day [Jason Day] did it. Rory did it. Dustin did it. It’s just what happens, you know.
“All the best players in the world, they go on their runs, and you just have to try to maximise them and try to create as long of a time period as you can out of that. That’s what I’m kind of working to get back on.”
Thomas, a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour, has included the ASI Scottish Open in his schedule this year to give himself the best possible chance in the Open Championship the following week, when it is staged at Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951.
“I was trying to kind of figure out a little bit different way to prep for The Open, a tournament that I love and I love links golf, but I just haven’t played it very well the past three years,” he said of finishing outside the top 50 on his debut at Royal Troon in 2016 then missing the cut at both Royal Birkdale and Carnoustie.
“I figured there wasn’t a better way to do it than at least go over there and get acclimatised. The Scottish Open, it has the history it has for a reason, and a lot of great players will play the week before the Open. So I think it will be a good test.
“In the three Opens I’ve played in, I’ve been in the bad draw all three years, but that’s the luck of the draw. I think a lot of it is being smarter when the weather gets tough or when it gets raining sideways, as opposed to sometimes sticking with a more aggressive game plan that we had. Maybe if I had another couple days of that under my belt, it might help.”