Thomas Pieters is one of the best golfers in the world. When he was just twenty-four years old, he defeated every American in the Ryder Cup, making him the first rookie ever to win four matches. The world was talking about him. “I’ve found my team mate”, Rory McIlroy said. “Who is this boy? Where does he come from?” Tiger Woods wondered surprisingly. We talk to Thomas upon his return from Saudi Arabia, where he finished 3rd after a spectacular 4th round & continues his climb back to the top of the World Golf Ranking.
Last year, we witnessed how Belgium’s N°1 golfer went through highs and lows, in search for good results. We saw him grow from a kid who was angry after every missed putt, into a mature player who’s working his way back up in the rankings. And it worked. In Prague, he won his fourth European Tour title and in the Dubai November sun, he performed amazingly alongside his old buddies from the Ryder Cup – where he still holds the record of most gained points by a rookie.
He finished 2019 as second best ball striker of the Tour, behind Tyrell Hatton, and worked hard during the winter stop on what turned out to be the weakest part of his game: putting.
WAMP: Half a kilometer, dangerous water on the left, and you hit the ball within two meters from the pin in two shots. Allow us to be tough and go back to our last interview of 2019: You said you were going to work on your putting, and you missed this eagle putt that could have qualified you for the World Golf Championships in Mexico in a couple of weeks. What happened?
THOMAS: It was a perfect putt. But I misread the green. Greens always tend to lean towards the water, but this one didn’t.
WAMP: At that moment, were you aware that you could be qualified for Mexico?
THOMAS: Not at all. That’s not me. Golf doesn’t get better when you count. On Friday, I was playing with rising star Rasmus Højgaard, winner in Mauritius. An incredible talent. He’s just eighteen years old. All he had to do to qualify for Mexico, was make the cut. He missed it by one shot and he was mad as hell. Afterwards we talked. I said “Look man, you’re eighteen, you’re making money while kids of your age are washing cars and flipping hamburgers. Be happy, don’t be mad.” (laugh) Here I was, talking like an old experienced man. It was like talking to myself when I was that age. But the nice thing is, he listened. He appreciated my comment. And he learned. Never aim for the cut. When you aim for the cut, you either make the cut or you don’t. Aim for the win. You may miss the cut eventually, but most of the time you make it.
When an interviewer asked Brooks Koepka, when he became N°1 in the world, what had made him a winner all of a sudden, he answered: “Before, I was aiming for the cut, so I always finished around the cut line. Now I’m aiming for the win, so I win now and then.”
WAMP: Do you have to tell yourself “Don’t count, don’t count”, the way us amateurs do? Is there a trick?
THOMAS: No. I guess I’m just lucky. I have never counted when I play. When I play, I play. I don’t think about the consequences. I just think about making the best possible shot. But to go back to Sunday, when I entered the Players’ Lounge, we were all watching and suddenly I see my name sole second right behind McDowell, whilst Dustin Johnson is missing one putt after the other. That was a moment I died.
WAMP: You weren’t the only one.
THOMAS: Yes. And in the meantime, I was getting messages on my phone “You made it! You go to Mexico!”. You know, you never wish your opponent
bad, but this time, it was just happening. Fifteen players who were ahead of me in the morning, were struggling to play under par, while I played minus five. Only on the last holes, Michelson and Green make their birdies to finish alongside me, whilst Johnson makes his eagle. It was nerve breaking. But I’m happy with the result. And in the tournament’s statistics, I was ranked 2nd in putting. That is a very good sign.
WAMP: You could still qualify by playing in Australia this week.
THOMAS: I know. I’d have to win there, or at least play top three. But it is an exhausting trip. Loss of energy. We have to build slowly. And continue to work on the putting.
WAMP: Can you explain exactly what you are working on?
THOMAS: The reading. Distance and direction. If you look at Justin Rose or Tommy Fleetwood, their putts always end middle of the hole at always the same speed. Mine sometimes fall doubtfully, on the wrong side or are often missed. In your mind, you have to calculate and visualise the trajectory of your ball, and it has to go right through the middle of the hole. Then you aim at the imaginary spot, to create that trajectory. The key is to build trust in your head so that this imaginary spot is the target. If you don’t trust your gut, you’ll start correcting during your putting and the ball will go a different trajectory. That is what it comes down to. Trust and commit. You have to give yourself something you can trust in. When in doubt, you miss. Look at Web Simpson last week in Phoenix. He had to make three 3-meter birdie putts to win against Tony Finau. Never a spot of doubt in his eyes. He didn’t wonder if it was going in. He knew it was going in. Meanwhilst, Finau was missing shorter putts. Doubt in his head. So that’s what I am working on. To get rid of the doubt in my head. It’s still a long way. It’ll take long, long days of practice and patience from the fans. But I’ll get there.
WAMP: There is not a moment of doubt. See you back on Play Sports when?
THOMAS: Next is Oman and Qatar. That’ll be last weekend of February.
WAMP: Have fun on the putting green.
THOMAS: (laugh) Thank you.