SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES – Justin Thomas said his friendship with Tiger Woods still strikes him as “bizarre” having drawn his golfing inspiration from the 14-time major champion in his youth.
The 25-year-old Thomas, last year's US PGA champion, will be making his Ryder Cup debut at Le Golf National as Woods returns to the team for the first time since 2012.
“It is bizarre, just for me, he's the reason why I love golf so much,” Thomas said on Wednesday. “He is the person that when I was seven and eight, nine years old, putting by myself on the putting green, in my head I was making this putt to beat him.
“So it's, again, like a lot of guys on our team, I'm happy to have him on my team, as opposed to playing against him in stroke-play events.”
Thomas recounted initiating his relationship with Woods, who was out injured at the time, a couple of years ago at the Masters.
“He wasn't playing, so he was going to be helpful,” explained Thomas, who briefly rose to world number one in May before Dustin Johnson reclaimed the top ranking.
“You know, it's not like it was this year or whenever he plays. His mouth kind of closes a little bit or how much information he gives out is not quite as much.
“So I tried to take advantage of that time when he was hurt as much as I possibly could. I think during that process, I wanted to be there for him as a friend, or as somebody, because the life he lives is so different than everybody else.
“If he gets bored, he can't go out in public and do something without getting harassed. Myself, Rickie (Fowler), other guys in Jupiter (Florida), we wanted to hang out with him and we wanted to do whatever he wanted to do.
“So to be able to have that friendship relationship with him is cool. I'm happy to have him on my team.”
While Thomas is entering his first Ryder Cup as a player, the overall experience is not a new one for last year's PGA Tour player of the year.
“It's so different, being in a team event and everything, but this is something that I've been looking forward to, something I've wanted to accomplish since I was a little kid,” he said.
“I was very fortunate to go to some Ryder Cups when I was a kid with my dad working for the PGA, so I've seen three in person, one of which was in Wales when I played the Junior Ryder Cup (in 2010).
“So I've seen it from the other side of the ropes and I'm very, very happy and excited to be on this side of the ropes.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)