PALM HARBOR — On a cold, rainy and sleepy Wednesday morning at the Innisbrook Resort, the day before the Valspar Championship tees off, Justin Thomas was fired up.
The world’s No. 9 golfer did the usual pre-tournament talk. He sang the praises of the hospitality and crew, and talked about the Copperhead Course as one of his favorites on the PGA Tour.
And then he was asked about the United States Golf Association and R&A’s new proposal to change the golf ball for the game’s elite players, in an attempt to try and reduce the long driving distances that many are now reaching.
Thomas did not mince words, calling the U.S. governing body of golf, which runs the U.S. Open, “selfish.”
“My reaction was disappointed and also not surprised, to be honest. I think the USGA over the years has, in my eyes — it’s harsh, but — made some pretty selfish decisions,” Thomas said after his nine-hole round in the pro-am. “They definitely have done a lot of things that aren’t for the betterment of the game, although they claim it. I had conversations with some USGA members and I don’t understand how it’s growing the game.”
Tuesday, the USGA and R&A, which runs the British Open, announced a new golf ball testing standard for elite competition that could see a major reduction in driving distances, by an average of 14 to 15 yards. PGA Tour officials were vague when asked about it. They did not say they would also adopt “rolling back” the balls, and Thomas hinted Wednesday that the Tour pros would be against it.
The change could create a situation in which the pros would have to use a different ball for two of the four majors — the U.S. Opwn and British Open — than they use the rest of the year.
“I mean, people are running faster, so what, are they just going to make the length of a mile longer so that the fastest mile time doesn’t change? Or are they going to put the NBA hoop at 13 feet because people can jump higher now? Like, no. It’s evolution,” Thomas said. “We’re athletes now. We’re training to hit the ball further and faster and if you can do it, good for you. So yeah, as you can tell, I’m clearly against it.”
Maybe that “rant” fueled a spark in Thomas that he has been looking for this season. The 29-year-old, who has 15 career wins on Tour but none in 2023, admitted it has been a frustrating year, but he is optimistic things will turn around soon.
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“This game of golf can make you feel like you are one swing away from wanting to quit and one swing away from winning the Masters, and that’s kind of where I’m at right now,” said Thomas, echoing a famous quote by Max Homa.
“So, in terms of my golf game, obviously it doesn’t feel great. I have been playing really, really well and I feel like I’m close. I’m just trying to stay patient and stay positive and just kind of wait for good things to happen, because I know that great things are coming. It’s just a matter of time and I just need to be in the right frame of mind for it.”
Maybe a return to the Copperhead Course is what Thomas needs to get into that right mindset. This is his sixth time playing here and he tied for third, one shot out of the playoff, in 2022.
“I love this golf course. You have some risk-reward opportunities, but it’s just placement; you have a lot of doglegs, it’s a premium and long fairway and it in fantastic shape, and then the greens are potentially the best I’ve ever seen them,” Thomas said after playing the course Wednesday morning.
“... It’s always a fun week here.”
Thomas, the defending PGA Championship title holder, is joined in the field by four other top 25 golfers, including two-time defending Valspar champion Sam Burns. Thomas will tee of Thursday for the first round at 8:29 a.m.
Thursday-Sunday, Innisbrook Copperhead Course, Palm Harbor
Gates open, 7 a.m.
TV: 2-6 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 1-3 p.m. Satuday and 1-2 p.m. Sunday, Golf Channel; 3-6 p.m. Saturday and 2-6 p.m. Sunday, NBC
More: Tickets and other info, visit here.