Belgian golfer Thomas Pieters became world famous as the first rookie ever to win four of his matches in the 2016 Ryder Cup. After an average year, he fought his way back into the Top75, but was stopped by a nasty virus. How does a top golfer, who normally plays a tournament nearly every week, survive these strange Spring months? And how will he bring himself back into competition mode? For the first time in months, we’re having a cup of coffee with Thomas Pieters, who is about to become a father this Summer.
WAMP: Thomas, competition in the US has re-started and The European Tour will kick off this week. When will we see you back in action?
THOMAS: I contemplated playing this week at the Austrian Open, but changed my mind as the baby’s due date is now approaching fast. And with all the Covid-19 fears, I don’t want to risk being denied entry at the maternity ward. So I’ll start again after the baby is born. Becoming a father is now more important to me than anything else. After that, I’ll be back.
WAMP: What’s the due date?
THOMAS: If all goes well, end of July or early August.
WAMP: The US PGA Championship starts on 6th August in San Francisco. So there is a chance we’ll see you there?
THOMAS: Honestly, don’t count on it. I don’t either. I’m in the field and it is a Major, so yes, it would be fantastic to tee it up. Big money and lots of points for the rankings. But I’m not thinking about just that. Baby and mum are my priority right now. If the baby comes earlier than expected, we’ll see. But even if I do end up going, I’ll be unprepared.
WAMP: Like Lee Westwood was in Abu Dhabi earlier this year?
THOMAS: And he won. I know. With golf you never know. That’s why I don’t spend time thinking about it. First stop is becoming a daddy now. There are two tournaments at Celtic Manor after the PGA Champs, the Celtic Classic and the Wales Open. And after that, there’s the UK Championship at The Belfry. If I don’t make it to the States, I’ll look into those UK events.
WAMP: Did you use the lockdown to get to a higher level of golf?
THOMAS: No. Golf practice without a specific nearby goal makes no sense. I have worked out a lot though. All kind of sports. But hitting balls on the driving range just isn’t my thing. I need competition. You know, when the courses re-opened after lockdown, I played par or one under at best. So, I did have to remind myself it wasn’t going to be easy. But since then, I’ve played match play every day. My followers on WAMP can see the results, so the feeling of ‘I want to win’ returns. This morning, I played Royal Antwerp and started off with two birdies. I said to myself, this is the day. Today I’ll play double digits. 10 under par at least. By the 11th hole, I was already 8 under. So it looked like the target was realistic. Then I only make pars until the last hole, where I make birdie to win the match, but with a score of 9 under. Only 9 under. So I’m disappointed. That’s the spirit though. Never satisfied. Always hungry for more. It may sound silly, but having to post my results on WAMP is a great motivator now. So far this week, I’ve played 6, 8 and 7 under par. My handicap. (laugh).
WAMP: Can you describe the difference between now and those first days after lockdown?
THOMAS: The thought process. How to approach a shot. Analysing the swing. Now I just play without thinking. I guess I’ve done that too much over the last few years, (over)thinking everything.
WAMP: What a lot of us, amateurs, are now asking ourselves: How do you get yourself to the stage of ‘not thinking’?
THOMAS: You don’t. It just happens I now notice. I’m no longer worried about how my swing looks. I visualise what I want the ball to do and my body knows exactly how to react, I don’t have to steer or control it anymore. As the old piano man says: think ‘music’ and the fingers will play. Think ‘fingers’, and the music stops.
WAMP: And no special physical trainings?
THOMAS: Not yet. I made a deal with my personal trainer to sweat like hell for a month once we know the date of my first tournament.
WAMP: You’re about to become a father for the first time. That’s a big responsibility. The lockdown has had a big effect on every athlete’s finances. Is this on your mind?
THOMAS: I’m lucky. I’ve always lived cheap. It is in my blood to handle money with care. When I won my first prize money in France, it was €29.000. I called my mum to ask if it would be responsible to buy a Playstation and a TV. I still do when things get expensive. I wonder if I can afford it. No, I never threw it out of the window. I’ve always known that things could turn around. So we built up a reserve. For times like these.
WAMP: Are we allowed to know how much the lockdown has cost you?
THOMAS: Sure, but it’s hard to say in golf. Could be zero, could be a million. But claiming that these five months will cost me a revenue of half a million, won’t be exaggerated. On the other hand, I’ve had zero expenses. It’s not like we have a shop with personnel and rent to pay. And a stock you can’t get rid off. That must be terrible. We at least can resume play after Summer. And maybe I can still make a good year out of it, I’ll certainly try.
WAMP: The lockdown must have given you a lot of time to think about your career. You’re very ambitious and you’re almost losing a full season.
THOMAS: I still have the old ambitions. I still want to win a Major. I still want to play the Ryder Cup. But hey, I’m only 28. Rose became N°1 in the World at the age of 42. So I’ve got time. Not that becoming N°1 is a target for me. I just want to play my best. Winning a Major. That’ll be bigger than anything else. Except becoming a father of course. (shyly smiles).
A few weeks ago, I played a match against the son of Didier De Vooght – the 1997 British Open Amateur Champion. Didier was waiting for us at the 10th teebox carrying a camera. He wanted a picture of me with his son at the very same spot where his father took a picture of him with Flory Van Donck. The best Belgian golfer ever with 25 European Tour victories between 1936 and 1955. That touched me. It really did. There is no bigger ambition than to become a kids’ dream. He beat me that day by the way. The boy played 5 over par, with a handicap of 13.
WAMP: Thank you very much Thomas. We’re looking forward to seeing you back in action. But first, back to your diaper changing training.
THOMAS: Getting better at it, everyday.