Justin Thomas turned 4 years old two weeks after Tiger Woods won his first major title at the 1997 Masters. However, roughly a quarter-century later, the two have developed a forthright relationship with one another.
They were partners at the 2019 Presidents Cup and Thomas was one of the first players interviewed after Woods’ crash this year, fighting back tears at a WGC-Workday press conference. Thomas visited Woods regularly this past year and while giving an update on Woods' recovery last month, he said, "He’s still his sarcastic a-hole self, so nothing’s really changed there. So I’m glad to see he’s as chipper as always.”
But not shying away from being honest with each other allows them to feed off one another on the course amid their sibling-like bond. And at last year's PNC Championship, Thomas earned bragging rights over big brother Woods.
"We have become so close that I think Charlie's like Justin's little brother he never had and Justin has become the little brother I never had," Woods said Friday, following his PNC Championship pro-am round. "We are extremely close with the family and we do a lot of things together, and to be able to have that experience tomorrow again. You know, we don't want them wearing that belt again, so we are going to give it our best. Christmas dinner wasn't quite as pleasurable last year as it hopefully will be this year."
Thomas wasn't sure of when the first time he and Woods played together in a tournament round, but he does recall asking Woods' opinion on his game afterwards. And he recalls Tiger's blunt assessment.
"I got done, and I just called him," Thomas said. "I'm like, 'Hey, we played a lot at home, but now we played in a tournament, you know, what do you see in what do I need to get better at?' And he just - immediately he's like, 'You don't have near enough shots.' It was like, 'You can work it ... But you don't have enough shots to be, you know, as dominant as I was,' kind of thing."
Thomas was thankful Woods gave it to him straight and the 28-year-old has notched a handful of wins since then.
“I also wouldn’t have wanted it to be like, ‘No, man, everything is great, you’re doing awesome,'” he said. “That would have been like, ‘Now you’re lying to me.’ I mean, you want to hear the harsh stuff. I think that also makes him a good mentor.”
The 14-time Tour winner took advantage of Woods' mentoring this past year because "he's more willing to answer because he's not playing at that moment." When it comes to Woods' advice, there's only so much the 82-time Tour winner will reveal because Thomas is usually standing in the way of a Woods win. Thomas, though, has the same mindset when it comes to sharing Woods' tips.
"There's a lot of things that he shared with me," Thomas said, "not only my game but just the game of golf in general that I'd never tell anybody just because, to be perfectly honest, I think it's an advantage and I take a lot of pride and honor that he's been willing to share some stuff with me.
"Are there a lot of other things he probably hasn't told me? Yeah, because he knows that he still likes golf and wants to beat me when we're playing. But I think just being there as a friend is most important as a mentor, but, yeah, kind of pushing each other along the way type thing."