Justin Thomas on Winning the Players Championship and the Advice Friend Tiger Woods Gave Him Beforehand

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Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas

Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Justin Thomas at the 2021 Player's Championship

Justin Thomas is excited — how could he not be, after winning last weekend's Players Championship with a final-round 68?

"I mean, anytime you have the opportunity to win a tournament, it's fun," the 27-year-old golfer tells PEOPLE.

Thomas entered the final round last Sunday three shots behind, but ultimately claimed his 14th PGA Tour title and the $2.7 million prize.

"I was playing well. I was in a good place mentally," he reflects, "and I knew I had a lot of tough players to beat and I felt like if I could just control my emotions well, and I could play how I had played the day prior — or at least remotely like that — then I felt like I would have a chance."

Mentality is crucial, he says of keeping his emotions and frustration at bay during the final 18.

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"There was an ease that I had when I was out there playing and, at least in tough times, I've noticed that it's very easy to get worked up when you get in the moment and have a chance to win a tournament," the Kentucky native explains. "I felt like that was going to be key for me on Sunday. It helps that I played really well and didn't give myself too many chances to get upset, but, that was huge for me to stay patient and kind of stay in an even keel all day."

What also helped? The return of fans. Spectators were allowed to attend the tournament at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, with the course at 20% capacity. The absence of in-person fans amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, was an adjustment, Thomas says, so it was nice to have them back last week.

"I found it very, very difficult to get focused and kind of get into rounds without fans there," he reflects. "You get so accustomed to thousands and thousands of people following you on the weekend and loud roars and cheers and everything. And then all of a sudden when it's not there, it's kind of hard to find that energy."

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Though the crowds were back, one tournament staple was noticeably absent: Thomas' pal Tiger Woods, who is recovering from a scary single-vehicle rollover car crash in California last month.

"He's been good at staying in touch for the last week," Thomas says of the 45-year-old, who announced his return home from the hospital on Tuesday. "I've tried to check in on him pretty much daily. I know there are some days that are better than others, and he's busy and whatnot, but, even in the beginning when I know that he didn't have his phone, I at least wanted to just kind of text him and tell him I'm thinking about him."

Thomas says he made it clear to Woods that the golfer was on everyone's minds, and that the dad of two returned the favor, watching from afar as Thomas dominated last weekend.

"He just told me to be myself and to have control of my emotions and my mental game," he tells PEOPLE of Woods' advice for him at the Players. "And he knew that if I just kind of controlled everything and didn't let stuff bother me or get to me, then, you know, I was going to have a good chance to be able to get it done. And I was glad that it worked out that way."

Another person Thomas knows would be proud? His late grandfather, former golfer and teaching pro Paul Thomas, who died last month at the age of 89.

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"He was so supportive," says Thomas. "At the same time, you know, him being the age — older people don't really have filters. And it's sometimes funny to hear him tell it like it was to me. So, I know he would tell me that, you know, I missed a bunch of putts and I could have won by six or seven, but he's proud of me. And, then again, at the same time, he'd tell me, 'Well, you know, get back to work and let's go get ready for Augusta.' So that's what we're going to do."