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The Spring Break gang – Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Smylie Kauffman – reunited earlier this month in Nashville in what turned out to be a much more relaxed gathering with their significant others compared to the raucous SB2K16 in the Bahamas that went viral on social media.
That’s not to say fun wasn’t had. For Thomas, it was a welcomed part of a two-week break following a taxing stretch of golf that included his emotional triumph in the Players Championship and the annual grind of the Masters.
The break which ends with this week’s start in the Valspar Championship also provided additional relief for Thomas in a year that has included turmoil and sorrow and has tested him mentally, physically and emotionally like never before.
In contention at the Sentry Tournament of Championship, Thomas muttered a homophobic slur after missing a short putt and despite owning up to his mistake and sincerely apologizing profusely, one of his sponsors dropped him and another publicly reprimanded him.
A few weeks later he was in contention again in the Waste Management Phoenix Open when he learned before the final round his grandfather, Paul, had died. Two weeks later, his good friend, Tiger Woods, was seriously injured in a single-car accident that shook Thomas.
It certainly wasn’t the year the world No. 2, who won the 2017 PGA and FedEx Cup and has 14 PGA Tour titles on the resume at age 27, expected, especially after he and his father, Mike, teamed up to win the PNC Championship in December.
But in a Zoom meeting with the media on Wednesday, Thomas looked rested and recharged and a long ways from the days he was out of sorts.
“I always try to take time off after Augusta, definitely one week off,” Thomas said. “I’m just not in the physical or mental state to be able to play a golf tournament after the grind the week of Augusta. Taking two weeks off was nice. I like to get just away. I kind of feel like it’s breaking the season up a little bit almost into two parts from how much we’ve played so far this season and the rest of the season, so I really want to feel like I’m fresh and ready to go, and that’s the case.”
Thomas knows he won’t be able to relax this week on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida. Not with the terror-filled stretch known as The Snake Pit, a 1,135-yard punch in the face on holes 16-18.
Thomas, however, welcomes the challenge. He played here in 2015-17, tying for 10th and 18th and missing one cut. His schedule has kept him away but he’s glad to fit the Valspar in this year.
“I love this tournament,” he said. “I love this golf course. The golf course is right in front of you. It’s not anything that’s tricked up. It’s not anything that’s hidden. It’s all right there. You see the narrow fairway out there and you’ve got to hit it, and if you don’t, you get out of position, you’re really just trying to somehow make a par, and the greens are small and severe.
“It’s one of those places you can shoot over par so quickly, but if you have control of your ball and you hit it in the fairway to where you can put the ball where you want on the greens, you shoot a couple under each day, you’re going to be doing pretty good. It’s a great test. I like golf courses like that, but at the same time, you can’t just kind of slap it around.”