Young Belgian pro Thomas Pieters represents the next future of European golf. He was tied 44th (283) at this 146th Open. With one eye on the telecast and Jordan Spieth’s amazing win, he took the time to answer to a few questions from the readership.
Thomas do you like to play links courses?
When I was growing up, I didn’t actually play on links courses, except in the UK for Under 16 or Under 18 events. Usually they were contested on links courses and I really loved it. You need to be more creative with your shots which at times can feel like a struggle. Sadly we don’t really get to play that many of them in a regular season. The Open is probably one of the rare occasions I can’t miss.
What has been key this week?
Hitting fairways is very important at Royal Birkdale. At the beginning of the week it looked like it was going to burn out and be very firm. Later we got some rain and the greens softened a bit. Hitting the wedges into the greens the balls didn’t spin too much. Then with all the heavy rain on the last days, forget the high winds, you can figure out the course didn’t have anything of the U.S. Open style of course.
Could you reflect on your 2016 Ryder Cup? How that has impacted this year?
I think the coolest moment was how I played my way into team. Darren [Clarke] said he was going to pick me, but I was kind of doubtful for a while. The Ryder Cup is a historic event, and even though we’ve lost the 2016 edition it was a great experience that I can learn from for the next ones. So far 2017 has been a bit up and down. I’ve been in contention a lot, but I haven’t finished it off. I’ve got to be patient and not too frustrated which I have a tendency to be.
How important it is to stay composed?
Very. My reactions show how much I care for the game but as said, I just have to be really patient. If it goes a bit sideways, just accept it and move on. Patience is key.
Your Ryder Cup experience has been remarkable for a rookie. Did it help you at the 2017 majors, Royal Birkdale included?
Playing the Ryder Cup is certainly helpful but it’s a match play. No scores for yourself, but for a group, a continent. At Augusta the player is coming down the stretch trying to win for him. I don’t know which leads to a higher pressure for another player, but as far I’m concerned, defending my personal score card produces an enormous level of pressure because I have to prove to myself that I can do it.
Looks like you cope well with pressure
Sometimes it goes your way. Sometimes it doesn’t and people say you don’t handle pressure well. But it’s just golf with good and bad days, see Spieth on his 4th round either at the Masters two years ago or at this Open. When I’m nervous, pressure hits me more, but it is not a too invading matter day in day out.
Are you now recognised as a sports star in Belgium?
Not yet to be honest, but it grows nicely. Personally, I’m not too fond to be in the limelight. But Belgium just loves to see one of his representatives in the headlines. The sponsors too, I guess. The Ryder Cup selection helped massively. It certainly illustrated that golf itself is growing massively. More courses are being built nowadays and new driving ranges are opening up in good numbers.
Playing on both the European Tour and the PGA Tour, how do you feel the differences?
The PGA Tour is too far from home. Once flying to LA I was on the plane for 15 or 16 hours. You have to deal with the jetlag, play golf, fly back home, play somewhere else the next week, whereas on the European Tour I may drive from event to event, so it’s very different. Besides their fantastic support, the Rolex Series are also welcome for that reason allowing more time at home. I’m in eight stages this season. I picked up the PGA Tour membership for next year, but my focus is definitely here, particularly through the Rolex Series and the Ryder Cup team at Golf National’s Albatros course.
2017 is important for Rolex celebrating their 50 years partnership with golf, a longtime partnership with the R&A and official timekeeping of the Open since 1981. Today you’re a Rolex ambassador. Did it catch you by surprise??
You bet. Saving some money from my tournaments, I got myself the first one – a second-hand silver DateJust – believe it or not, just two months before their welcome call! At the Ryder Cup each team member got a Rolex Daytona engraved on the back which is amazing. I’ve got few more since. Because I didn’t see the Swiss people for a while, I went to their elegant hospitality suite to say thank you. Few weeks before I saw the Daytona at their US Open’s. “We’ve just got it yesterday. Would you like to try it?” was the answer, minutes before being handed a very nice golden and green Rolex gift box. I’m certainly a lucky guy. TP
(images (c) Rolex/Turvey)