Come the summer of 2020, Thomas Pieters will have been a professional golfer for seven years.
In that time, the 28-year-old has won four times on the European Tour and also partnered countryman Thomas Detry to win the World Cup of Golf in 2018, for Belgium.
He’s yet to win on the PGA Tour, but has finished equal fourth at the 2017 Masters and T-6 at the PGA Championship.
Yet, if the 6’4” Antwerp-born pro could bottle his form from the 2016 Ryder Cup event in Hazeltine, he would be challenging every week and for the number one spot on tour.
Winning four points from a possible five – three partnered with current world number one, Rory McIlroy – Pieters set a new record for a Ryder Cup rookie. He missed out in 2018 when Europe regained the trophy and is hoping to get form, and competitive satisfaction, back this year.
RSNG You turned professional in the summer of 2013 after leaving college early. How did that feel? Was it a big jump? THOMAS PIETERS ‘I’ll be brutally honest and say that it was. The first few months on the European Tour were quite tough and I actually took a brief break and went back to see my coach at the University of Illinois.’
‘He helped me to work on a few things and then I was back feeling like I was playing much better. That led to me having a runner-up finish in Spain and a I think, a couple of other top 10 places. That took me up inside the top 250 places in the world.’
‘But yeah, it wasn’t exactly a smooth ride after I had had a successful time at college and then went through the Qualifying School and passed each of the three rounds to get my card. Going onto the tour proper was really an eye-opener and it took me some time to adjust.’
If you ask any golfer what defines a round, it’s often not the really good shots, it’s the really bad shots
RSNG What kind of things were you working on to get your game back on track? TP ‘A whole host of things, really. Nothing major, it wasn’t a complete overhaul of my game, but I needed to tighten it up and stop making the silly mistakes which were threatening to bring my whole round down.’
‘If you ask any golfer what defines a round, it’s often not the really good shots, it’s the really bad shots. If you think about constructing a game based on eliminating mistakes, rather than going after stunning drives and long putts, you’ve actually got a pretty good chance of putting something together.’
‘If I had maybe rushed a shot or gone with something which in hindsight I didn’t think was the right choice, sometimes that would disrupt my flow and then it would put me back. I had to get out of the mindset that one shot could ruin a round.’
‘I needed to get into the thinking that everyone plays bad shots and that it’s about how you react and recover when that happens. Thankfully, I was able to do that, and it’s really stood me in good stead over time.’
RSNG You’ve played in one Ryder Cup already and set a new record for the number of points won by a rookie. Although you weren’t able to help Team Europe win the trophy, what was that experience like? TP ‘It was unbelievable and one that cannot be taken away once you have done it. It was a brilliant week - I had made sure I approached the event in a different way that I would in the lead-up to individual tournaments because I knew what a different challenge the Ryder Cup was.’
‘I had help and advice from some of the more experienced players there – although everyone has their own routine. But to be part of a team event like that, it’s just so unique.’
‘With it being match-play golf, that suited me so much more and I backed myself more because if I lost a hole, it didn’t matter as much as it would have under stroke-play conditions.’
‘So, you go to the next hole and start again and that worked. Playing with Rory (McIlroy) ended up being a great partnership and I’d love to do that again, yeah.’
RSNG You missed out in 2018, is your aim to get back into the fold for 2020 with Padraig Harrington as captain? TP ‘It will be part of the aims, targets and goals that I have in my mind. But I cannot be thinking too far ahead – I need to be concentrating on the short-term in order to fulfil those longer-term goals. If I don’t play well enough during the season, then I won’t be included.’
‘So, I need to be thinking about how I am playing well for myself, first and foremost. If my form is good enough, then Padraig can’t ignore me. But there are so many great players in the fold at the moment and it’s going to be tough, make no mistake about it. But I will give it what I have got.’
Due to all of the travelling on the European Tour it’s a tough calendar and your body really feels it
RSNG There have been comparisons – some of them a little unfair and disparaging, it seems – between the PGA and European Tours. Having played both, what do you think? TP ‘Both have great players, and both are tough to play. The European Tour has by far the most travelling to do, without doubt. If you’re playing on the PGA Tour, it’s almost all in the United States, whereas with the European Tour, don’t be fooled by that word ‘European’.’
‘You’re playing events in Africa, Australia and Asia, as well as Europe. So, because of that you are mostly taking flights after tournaments, and in the US, you’re playing on the East and West coasts of America. Granted, there would be some long drives – no pun intended, haha!’
‘Due to all of the travelling on the European Tour, it is a tough calendar and your body really feels it. So, you have to make sure that you get on the right flights, and give yourself the right amount of time to recover from the journey and make sure that you are feeling like you can play your best stuff when you get to the event.’
WHAT NEXT? Read how Vicktor Hovland, the breakthrough Norwegian, plays his golf in our interview here.