Thomas defends Holmes on pace-of-play incident
January 31, 2018
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- J.B. Holmes has come under scrutiny for his pace of play on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines. (Michael Reaves/Getty)
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Reigning FedExCup champion Justin Thomas came to the defense Wednesday of his friend and fellow Kentuckian J.B. Holmes.
Thomas, off the past two weeks since his last start in Hawaii, was watching on TV as Holmes deliberated over his second shot at the par-5 18th hole in Sunday’s final round at the Farmers Insurance Open. The wind was gusting at Torrey Pines, and Holmes strategized for four minutes and 10 seconds before deciding to lay up.
The lengthy wait agitated fans around the 18th green and set off slow-play debates. But Thomas was having none of it. Both Thomas and Holmes are in the field at this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.
“I have J.B.’s back all day on that situation,” said Thomas, who shares a coach with Holmes in Matt Killen. “It bothered me, and I hate it [bothering] him. I went up to him yesterday and told him it was a great week, first off. It was a great tournament for him.
“But I have a hard time saying I wouldn’t do anything differently than he did. If you put me in 18 fairway and I need an eagle to win the golf tournament, or to have a chance to win the golf tournament, I mean, I knew the exact position he was in, and I would do the same thing.”
Two shots behind playing partners Alex Noren and Ryan Palmer – with eventual champion Jason Day already in the clubhouse after finishing up his round -- Holmes had 235 yards to carry the water. The wind had been tricky all day, and he found himself between a 5-wood and a 3-wood.
He also lost track of time during the deliberations with his caddie, he told Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte.
“If I messed him up, I apologize,” Holmes said of Noren, who needed a birdie at 18 to win the tournament but hit his second shot through a tunnel behind the green and could not get up and down. He settled for par before eventually losing a six-hole playoff to Day that extended to Monday.
“He still made a good swing,” Holmes told Rosaforte about Noren’s second shot. “He smacked it.”
“I don’t understand what all the big hoopla is about,” Holmes added. “I was just trying to give myself the best chance to win the tournament. I didn’t want to mess anybody up.”
Asked afterwards if the wait affected his shot, Noren replied: “Not necessarily. … Just probably made me switch clubs.” Noren opted for 3-wood after contemplating a hybrid, but in retrospect said he probably should have laid up.
The Holmes situation was the most visible slow-down of a slow day. At the par-3 third hole, C.T. Pan fell victim to the stiff breeze and twice hit his tee shot over the cliff behind the green, leading to a back-up in the field.
Thomas said he would support efforts to speed up play, even to the point of players being dealt penalty strokes.
“I think we should do it,” he said. “We’ve got to do something about the pace of play.”
As for the specific situation with Holmes, though, he sees extenuating circumstances. He says he and Holmes have similar trajectories, and so he could imagine himself in the same situation.
“I get it,” Thomas said. “Four minutes and 10 seconds is a long time, but nobody behind him, last hole, you need a three to win the golf tournament, you need to take as long as you can.
“I mean obviously, there’s a point, you’re not going to sit there 10 minutes,” he added. “But it’s like, look: If I’m going to wait for the right wind, I’m going to wait for the right wind. I need to make a 3 here. And then people saying, ‘I can’t believe he wanted that long and laid it up into the rough.’ It’s like, do you think he was trying to lay it up into the rough? I mean, I think the bigger deal—and J.B., he’s gotten a lot better, and he’s trying to get a lot better with his pace of play — but it’s just the fact of the previous 17 holes.”
Holmes told Rosaforte that while he was once too slow, he has improved. “I don’t get timed more than anybody else,” Holmes pointed out.
Holmes eventually finished solo fourth at Torrey Pines, his best result since a solo third at the 2016 Open Championship. He comes to TPC Scottsdale as a two-time champion (2006, ’08).
Said Thomas: “I hate it for him, how much he’s getting bashed and ridiculed.”