I thought I was in good shape. Then I enrolled at the University of Alabama and started training in the same facility as the football players. I saw what fitness really was. Julio Jones and Mark Ingram—both in the NFL now—and a lot of other guys were freaks. They worked out constantly. They were huge, sleek, totally committed. They always seemed to be drenched in sweat, even when they weren't working out. They walked around with ice packs taped everywhere and seemed to have slight limps, especially on Mondays after a Saturday game. We golfers are athletes and more fit than we've ever been, but it's hard for me to look at fellow tour players—me at 145 pounds—and see golfers as being in that class.

Last September, after I missed getting into the Tour Championship at Atlanta, I went over to Tuscaloosa to see the guys. I dropped by football practice on Tuesday, after we'd lost to Ole Miss on Saturday. One of the assistants said, "Coach [Nick] Saban would like to see you, so stick around." The team went into a huddle, and Coach Saban just ripped into them. It was intense. I was standing a few feet away, and the things he said to them—there was some profanity—and his body language, was scary. The players looked terrified. When it ended and the huddle broke up, Coach Saban started to walk over to me, and in the 10 seconds it took him to get there, he became a different person. Totally relaxed and friendly, like nothing had happened. It was an amazing change of persona.

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Coach Saban is a good ball-striker who struggles with his short game. One day our team was watching from a distance as our coach, Jay Seawell, was giving Coach Saban a chipping lesson. Coach Saban was blading one shot after another, screaming them over the green. He looked frustrated. After it was over, Coach Seawell came over to us and said, "So, what do you guys think?"

Bobby Wyatt, one of our best players, said, "I can't believe Coach's chipping. I hope he's back out here tomorrow—that action needs some serious work."

Coach Seawell just nods. A day later, he's giving Coach Saban another lesson, and he says, "Bobby, come over here." Bobby walks over. Coach Seawell says to him, "Tell Coach Saban what you think of his chipping. Tell him exactly what you told me yesterday."

Coach Saban says, "Yeah, tell me what you said about my chipping."

Bobby, looking as terrified as the football players looked at that practice, stammers, "Well, all I meant was, there's some room for improvement." Coach Saban glares at him for five seconds, which had to be an eternity for Bobby. Then he looks over at Coach Seawell, and they both crack up laughing. They really threw Bobby under the bus. It was awesome.

'I played Augusta National for the first time last week, and winning there is a dream that could very much happen for me. That course is perfect for me.'

One thing you'll always hear Coach Saban talk about in interviews is the importance of "playing our game." You don't want to be forced into doing things you aren't good at, be aggressive unnecessarily or take silly risks. Perfect example: At the Northern Trust last year, I was in the second-to-last group on Saturday, five under par and right there. Playing very comfortably, nothing spectacular. It was coming so easily, for some reason I figured it was coming easy for the other guys and that I needed to finish in the 10-under range to win. So on the weekend I pushed the envelope just a little. No crazy risks, just playing a little outside what was realistic. I had a terrible weekend, shooting 75-75. Tied for 41st. If I'd kept doing what I was doing, I would've won. Heck, one under on the weekend would have got me into a playoff. But I didn't play my game.

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Great as Alabama's football teams are, the golf team I played on there in 2012 was unreal. At the Chris Schenkel tournament, playing the usual play-five/count-four format, we played the first round without a bogey and made only one in the second. For the three days, we had one counting bogey and shot 47 under—20 under, 19 under and then, on the last day, choked and shot eight under. I'm not certain, but I don't think any team in college golf history has had a performance like that. The weird thing was, we got beat by Texas that year in the finals of the NCAA Golf Championship, which hurts me today like no other loss ever has. We won it the next year with a team that was slightly less loaded.

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Advice to all college golfers: Get the football and basketball players on your side. I'm sort of a needler, sarcastic and sometimes relentless. It's just the way I roll. At a frat party one time, some drunk guy was hassling us, and I gave it back to him—double. Next thing you know, the guy is in my grill, and it's not looking good because he's a lot bigger than me. Suddenly, Carl Engstrom, the 7-2 center on the basketball team, is at my side, looming over the guy giving me trouble. Carl's brother, who is 6-8, was there, too. The dude just slinked away. That happened a few times, the football and basketball players coming to the rescue of us pathetic golfers.

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Jordan Spieth and I met when we were both 13 and playing AJGA stuff. We even played in the Evian Junior Masters in France together, along with Erynne Lee and Grace Na. Starting about that time, we took part in these epic putting contests. After so many tournament rounds, Jordan, myself and as many as 10 other players would go at it, often playing alternate shot as teams, until it was too dark to see. It made me a lot better, not from watching Jordan's stroke so much as having a good putter to go up against for so long. The best putting game is "pull-back." If you miss, you have to pull the ball back a putter-length from where it stops. There's not a better way to learn to make the tough three-footers.

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I don't think Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors is unbeatable at all. Someone—maybe one of the guys in the group I'm playing with now—can do it. It would take a couple of huge years in which you won two or three majors. But if someone did that, it would just be a matter of picking them off over the course of a long career. Even more gettable is someone winning 70 to 80 tournaments over a career. And if you really want to take it out there, I'll bet someone on the PGA Tour shoots 58 sometime in the next five years.

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I won't play an 18-hole practice round unless I'm playing for something. That goes for when I'm at home, too. It doesn't have to be for much, but it has to be for something, because I want to hit every shot like it matters. I never hit shots just messing around. If you make a swing without serious intent, you're going backward.

I keep hearing that golf dreams are usually bad. I dream about golf all the time, and they're all good. They're always about winning majors and other big tournaments. I'm always coming off 18, people are congratulating me, and I'm elated and so satisfied. Every time, I wake up and immediately feel disappointed that none of the stuff really happened—yet. I played Augusta National for the first time last week, and winning there is a dream that could very much happen for me. That course is perfect for me.

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I've been immersed in golf my whole life. I don't have other hobbies to speak of and didn't play other sports much. My first words as a baby supposedly were "bag of balls," about my wanting to go to the range at Harmony Landing, where my dad [Mike Thomas] is the pro. The 16th hole is 144 yards. For years it was the only hole I could reach in regulation. When I was 6, I made a hole-in-one there, hitting my cut-down driver. My dad had made an ace there, and so had my grandpa, Paul Thomas, who was good enough to have played in the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont. Three generations scoring aces on the same hole. How many families can say that?

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In Hawaii last month I tried paddle boarding, and the next day was so sore I felt like I was 90 years old. Never again. I'm not a water guy, and especially not a fan of sharks. After traveling for weeks, playing golf nonstop and getting myself worn out, my idea of a good time is to sit on the couch and binge-watch something. A while back, I watched three seasons of "Entourage" in one day. By myself, so I could take it in with no distractions and small talk. I had an early breakfast, dove into the show, snacked for lunch and then had dinner delivered. Weird, I know. But I bet I'm not the only human being who does that.

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My dad, being a club pro, has witnessed the struggles of the golf industry first-hand. In 2014, he and a buddy decided to do something about it. His best friend is the general manager at Big Spring, another neat old club in Louisville. They got together and sort of engineered the idea of having Harmony Landing and Big Spring merge. That's what the two clubs did, and it's been a big success. The members love having two courses to play. I'm not an expert on running clubs, but judging by the success of this partnership, more clubs might consider doing this.

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My grandpa is full of stories and simple wisdom. I never tire of hearing him talk golf. He has a saying: "Some days it's chickens, and some days it's feathers." All it means is, no matter how good you get, you can't be at your best all the time. The nature of the game is that you'll run hot and cold, and the ball will take funny bounces. I try to remember that, but it's tough for me. I don't like bad golf.

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Bad golf makes me cranky. When I was a little kid playing in tournaments and it didn't go well, I'd pout. My dad and I would come through the door, and I'd head for the couch to sulk. My mom would say, "How'd it go?" And my dad, who isn't the coddling type, would nod his head toward me, roll his eyes and say, "How do you think it went?"

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Wyndham Championship, 2009. My first PGA Tour event. I was 16 and still had the cranky thing going. I made the cut but finished the second round poorly. A TV station asked for an interview, I gave it to them, then went home. After I cooled off, I turned on the TV and saw myself being interviewed in all my irritable glory. I made a promise to myself to turn it around. I'm older and have done a lot better, but like I say, I hate bad golf.

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My phone is my friend and my enemy. When it comes to checking the phone constantly, I'm that guy. I'm trying to scale back. But I'll see something on Instagram, investigate a link to something else, then something else, and next thing you know I'm full-on down the rabbit hole.

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I hit the ball plenty far enough. I ranked 15th in driving distance last year and am averaging over 300 yards again this season. Still, it's hard for me to watch Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Jamie Lovemark or Tony Finau and not wonder what I could do if I had that kind of power. Luke List hits it so stupid far, he might be on a level even above those guys. I watch him and think, If I could do that it would be wedge city on every hole. But I get those thoughts out of my mind very quickly. No sense drooling over something you can't have.

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Even though distance is huge and more of it would open new worlds for me, I still believe in the old saying of drive for show, putt for dough. It will always be true. Given a choice of 15 more yards or making another 30-footer every round, I'll take making the putt. Dude, that's four shots a week. And watching those putts drop would be more fun than bombing it out there.

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Ever get hung up on a movie? At Alabama, I became obsessed with the comedy "Semi-Pro." Cory Whitsett and I watched it incessantly on the road and at school, to the point where at nationals in 2013, before my finals match, I watched it in the team van before I teed off. To this day, I travel with it. I've watched it so many times I've lost count. I can probably quote every word.

'Three generations scoring aces on the same hole. how many families can say that?'

I'm a "Happy Gilmore" guy more than a "Caddyshack" guy. But if I were making a serious golf movie, I'd make it a story about a guy trying to win the Grand Slam. He'd have three of the four out of the way, and now he's on the precipice of winning the fourth. There would be a love interest and other side plots, of course, but the main thing is his battle to win the PGA Championship and complete the slam. But what would happen is, he wouldn't struggle to win it. It wouldn't be one of those obvious things like a putt to win on the last hole. He'd absolutely crush everybody and win by 12, similar to the way Secretariat ran at the Belmont to win the Triple Crown. The real twist is what happens to my hero after he wins. That's the surprise, and I'm not revealing what it is until the movie gets made.


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