Thomas Pieters has known better times. At barely the age of twenty-four, he took every American off the course in Ryder Cup competition and became the first rookie ever to win four of his five matches. The world took notice. Rory McIlroy said: ‘I found my teammate’. Tiger Woods asked: ‘Who is this kid? Where does he come from?’ Good questions. We do know now that he is from Belgium. But who exactly is the man, and how does he deal with the fact that it’s been a while since he’s notched a win? We asked him upon his recent return from Kuala Lumpur. There, Thomas played the worst third round of his career, just when he had finally moved into the lead at the Maybanks Championship.
WAMP: Thomas, what did you do that evening after that less-than-stellar third round?
THOMAS: I was sitting in my room with the worst feeling ever. Alone. People don’t realize how it is. I was on the same flight home with Wesley Sonck and his youth soccer players… Wesley came up to me and gave me a shoulder to lean on: ‘If we play a bad match, there are twenty of us to talk about it and commiserate. You golfers are alone’.
He’s right. It can be rough sometimes. It gets to your head.
WAMP: Do you think something is wrong with your head? Mentally, I mean?
THOMAS: I am slowly starting to realize that, yes. It’s not because of my game. Physically I’m all right. And I don’t suffer from severe unresolved childhood traumas either. That’s why I’m not yet consulting a sports psychologist, who’ll tell me not to be angry if I miss a putt. The result is that I am angry not only because I missed the putt, but I’m also angry because I’m angry. That anger festers until the bomb goes off.
WAMP: We saw that in Kuala Lumpur…
THOMAS: Yes. Typically, over the course of the first ten holes, I’ll give myself a chance to birdie on every hole. Then I know that I am doing well. But in KL, not even a single good putt… not one. And then you start thinking about the people you disappoint. You start doubting yourself. Putts that you normally make with ease, without even thinking about them, go awry, making you tighten up even more. On the tenth hole, I had already lost my leading position to Nacho Elvira, who does make his shots consistently. And then I hit a really stupid shot just off the course…
WAMP: And for the first time in along time, you threw your driver. Was there a fine?
WAMP: What would you say about the potential danger of a tossed club to bystanders?
THOMAS: That would never factor into it. Never. I can be angry, but I’m never going to cause accidents. I’m always careful.
WAMP: Surely, you haven’t really lost control over yourself at that moment?
THOMAS: No, I’m not angry with the world. I am just really angry at myself because I disappoint my team. But then it got even worse. On the par-three that followed, I hit the ball off the green, one level lower, so I needed two chips to get back up onto the green. Another double bogey… It’s maddening.
WAMP: But then, out of nowhere perhaps, a miracle, you hit an eagle.
THOMAS: Yes, that was nice. With my Driver and P-wedge.
WAMP: At that moment you can still limit the damage.
THOMAS: Yes, and that’s what I tried to do. I played as well as I could. But it didn’t work out. I feel very guilty in front of my team and my caddie. But if I say sorry to him, then he gets angry. He thinks I shouldn’t feel guilty. We are a team and we give everything we have. We have to take into account the fact that once in a while it won’t work out.
WAMP: Wise caddie.
THOMAS: Ha, right. He’s the best!
WAMP: What did your swing coach, Peter Cowen, say to you when you called him?
THOMAS: He sent me a nice picture. Reaching the pinnacle in golf is like reaching the top of Mount Everest. I believe that I got that feeling way too early in my career; that it’s just a ‘short hike’ to the top. In fact, it’s really hard work, and it will take some time, I realize, before I get back up there. But our team is great now and I’m really looking forward to working together. I’m also starting to realize that my fans are not disappointed by the missed putts, so now I’m learning how to deal with it. The game has its highs and lows. Almost more than any other sport. I shouldn’t be ashamed because I missed a shot. I should be ashamed because I’m throwing a club again.
— Thomas Pieters sips his second cappuccino and looks straight into the interviewer’s eyes. “Don’t tell anyone, but I promise you that I’ll never throw a club again.”
WAMP: Duly noted! When will we see you again?
THOMAS: Well, normally I’m not playing for another six weeks, and during the last two of those weeks, I’m going to travel with my girlfriend around Asia. Can you imagine? I am twenty-seven years old and have never been on holiday with my backpack. I’m looking forward to it.
WAMP: And in the meantime?
THOMAS: Playing with my comrades. That cheers me up. Tomorrow I will play a round of WAMP with Mivis, De Vooght and De Bondt in Kapellen.
WAMP: Beautiful. Don’t forget to post your match.