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By John Huggan
NORTH BERWICK, Scotland — He made it clear he wasn’t one of the 15 players Golf Digest identified as contemplating a boycott of the U.S. Open a couple of years ago. But speaking by telephone from the Memorial Tournament to members of the Scottish press gathered at the Renaissance Club, Justin Thomas made no attempt to disguise his on-going dissatisfaction with USGA.
Which was no surprise. Earlier this year, Thomas publicly ridiculed the USGA’s latest rules revisions, calling them “terrible” in a press conference. In response, the governing body erroneously accused the sixth-ranked player in the world of cancelling a series of planned meetings between the two, before later apologising for the mistake.
“It’s pretty obvious on where I stand with the U.S Open and the USGA,” said Thomas, who played in the French Open last year and is scheduled to make his debut in the Scottish Open this coming July. “We’ve had our difficulties over the last six months. My frustration with them and the [course] setup at the U.S. Open stems from how the PGA Tour does such a great job setting up tournaments the entire year. We feel like the U.S. Open gets away from us, or gets out of hand almost every year.”
Still, while Thomas was not slow in identifying his disappointment at how “amazing courses” such as Shinnecock Hills, Oakmont and Merion have recently been presented—“they don’t need to be tricked-up; they don’t need to be set up any harder than they already are, yet we end up ‘losing’ them, which is not fair or what any of us want”—he dismissed the notion that he might be tempted to miss his national championship in protest.
“At the end of the day, the U.S. Open is a major, and I’m always going to play in it,” he said. “I can get over the fact of not liking a couple of holes in a setup to try and win a major.”
Thomas was also quick to defend the right of players like himself to complain when things are less than satisfactory. The story in the June issue of Golf Digest Middle Easr (USGA Confidential: What players, coaches, caddies and analysts really think about the governing body used anonymous quotes to graphically illustrate the high level of friction that exists between many professionals and the governing body. But Thomas sees that level of secrecy as something that may not be required in future.
“The last couple of years or so it has been good for the game when guys have been a little bit more outspoken and honest,” he said. “But we never want to come off as bratty. At the end of the day, this is what we do and we want to make sure it’s as good as possible and fair. Sometimes it’s hard for other people to understand that. But we are getting to the point where, if stuff gets out of control, we don’t feel like we have to hold back anymore. We can say how we feel.”
Where Thomas was less definitive was in identifying his post-FedEx Cup schedule this year, which will be disappointing to many in the Old World hopeful that the PGA Tour’s earlier finish might see more of the leading Americans playing more on the European Tour.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” he admitted. “I’m most excited about having the opportunity to go to some American football games in the fall. We don’t get too much of an off-season, so adding golf usually isn’t at the top of my list. But I love to travel and go to different places so it is definitely a possibility. To be able to win a European Tour event—and the Scottish Open is one of the biggest—would be pretty cool to add to my resume.”