AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Justin Thomas first played Augusta National long before he ever competed in the Masters, and the 23-year-old has been back several times over the years. Still, every time he’s here, he finds himself in awe of the surroundings.
Even on a rainy Monday, Thomas found himself gazing at the place in wonderment from the veranda behind the clubhouse, soaking in all the scenery.
“I got some food and went out and just kind of stood there for a couple minutes and just watched all the people,” Thomas said. “I don’t know, there’s no sporting event like it.”
It’s easy to be in wonderment. But Thomas has also learned from the experiences. In his first Masters last year, he practiced eight hours a day, wide-eyed and wowed by the overwhelming grounds, and the result is he wore himself out, breaking par just once and tying for 39th.
“The facilities here are so good, you can catch yourself into staying out here longer than you feel like you should,” Thomas said.
In addition to drawing on past mistakes, Thomas has turned to others for tips. Following last year’s tournament, he called six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus. This year, he picked the brain of four-time winner Tiger Woods and did the same with Phil Mickelson, playing a couple of practice rounds with the three-time champion earlier this week.
“I want to be around guys that are successful here, and successful at places I’m going,” Thomas said. “You don’t want to collect too much information because then you’re going to be just a little bit not intimidated but just kind of overflowing with information.
“But I feel like if you get enough of it you can pick up the stuff that you didn’t know or pick up the stuff you feel is very important and use that.”
Jeff Knox is one of those sources of information, too. Thomas was teammate of the Augusta National member’s son, Lee, while at the University of Alabama, and he makes sure to call to Knox every time he’s in town.
This year, that meant a practice round together, and not spending as much time on the range.
“I put in some good work this past week,” said Thomas, already a three-time winner this season, who also shot 59 earlier this year. “But it was just a little bit shorter days.”
And he hopes a much better result.
One of the game’s longest hitters and best ball-strikers with a good short game, he likes his chances at Augusta National. And why not given his season so far?
“I’ve made a lot of great progress the last couple of weeks on stuff I’ve wanted to work on,” he said. “I know around here I don’t need to be my best; I just need to manage it and I need to be smart.”