MARCH 7 — It means a lot to be The Players champion. It's a huge championship and one that’s very special to all of us on the PGA Tour. It's a tournament I've always wanted to win, and a tournament that I truly did feel like I was going to win at some point, and hopefully multiple times.
It was great coming back here recently for a media day. I’ve been comfortable coming to TPC Sawgrass before I’d won, so this time, I was a lot more comfortable — especially being back in the Champions Locker Room, seeing my picture around the clubhouse and the energy from the place with just days until tournament time.
I love the golf course. I liked the course the moment I first came here for the Junior Players Championship. This place is always immaculate for the tournament. TPC Sawgrass does a great job of shutting it down properly at the right time and getting the course into great shape, and I can confirm it’s going to be as beautiful and as challenging as ever.
I’ve been fortunate to have some good rounds at the Stadium Course and I’ve enjoyed some success on the Stadium Course; however, I had never won the tournament prior to last year but came close a couple of times. I just feel at home being around here, I like it and I feel like it’s a place that I can get it around pretty well. I’ve had a couple of poor rounds, but I’ve also got a handful of rounds where I’ve gone low — which is huge around this place. If I can turn some of those 71s and 72s into 69s and 70s, and sprinkle in one 64 or 65, all of the sudden, a tournament where I’m looking at finishing 15th or 20th, I’ll have a chance to win. I love this place, I really do.
Last year, I remember fighting so hard. I stayed patient, and it was probably one of the best rounds of my life from tee to green, where I had total control of the ball. I really was hitting a lot of good putts; I just wasn't holing anything. I was in a zone and in a focus that I felt like I could make the ball do what I wanted with it, and it felt like I could hit the putts exactly how I wanted. It was nice to get into that little head space. And as the 2022 event is on the horizon, I feel a lot better about my game now than I did at any point last year.
People always wonder why it’s so hard to defend at The Players. Not having a repeat winner here has nothing to do with the golf course. It’s just really hard to win golf tournaments these days on the PGA Tour and it’s not like in certain places where you see guys go back-to-back more than others. It’s just very difficult to win at a place like The Players Championship where arguably you have one of the deepest fields in golf, and a golf course that doesn’t fit any one style. I look forward to having the opportunity of trying to win again, but I know there are a lot of other guys who are looking to do the same thing.
One thing I’ll never forget from the 2021 Players was that it was great having some fans back onsite. Obviously, we had been in circumstances where we couldn’t have fans or had a limited number of fans for a while, but to me, I would rather have as many people as possible. I was so excited coming here as it was the first tournament in a while where you felt the energy and you felt the adrenaline. We were able to feed off the crowd, hear the roars and know what’s going on, and this year, hopefully I can create some buzz myself.
As a kid, I obviously remember Tiger’s “better than most” putt on 17 (when Woods won in 2001) and Hal Sutton’s shot on 18 (to win in 2000). I love the game of golf enough in itself to want to succeed at the highest level and compete against the best players. At The Players, I just think how deep the field really is and how the event is as good as it gets for us.
You know you’re competing against the top players in the world on an unbelievable golf course and the home of the PGA Tour. There are a lot of great memories and so much history around here.
* Justin Thomas is a 14-time PGA Tour winner and you can watch him and the world’s best players competing at The Players Championship on Astro Golf Channel and GOLFTV powered by PGA Tour.
**This is the personal opinion of the columnist.