The Justin Thomas co-produced college golf series, “Driven,” continues on The Golf Channel on Monday night (8 p.m. CT), with Nick Saban sharing some of the motivational words he uses with the University of Alabama football team with their golf compatriots.
For Thomas, one of the top-ranked players in the PGA and an Alabama alum who co-produced the series, the Alabama-Auburn rivalry in every sport — not just golf — is part of what attracted him to join Rickie Fowler in co-producing the series.
“I think during my recruiting process I understood it a little bit,” Thomas said. “Believe it or not, my official visit was the Cam Newton game (an Auburn comeback win in 2010) and I watched him run around that stadium with his hand over his mouth and just looking at the fans and, well, my hatred for Auburn started pretty early.
“Coming from Louisville, pretty much all I knew was the basketball, the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry. That quickly changed when I got down South. With Louisville-Kentucky, there was a little bit in the football, there’s a little bit in other sports, but the Alabama-Auburn, it’s everything. We wanted to drum them as often as possible and they wanted to beat us (just) as often. In all these different sports it’s like, it’s a serious, serious rivalry. And it was cool to be a part of, we definitely had some fun with it when I was in school.”
Saban isn’t the only celebrity who will be a part of the season’s second episode. Former Auburn golfer Jason Dufner, also a PGA Tour standout, will be featured as he visits with the current AU golfers.
The series is part of The Golf Channel’s increased commitment to intercollegiate golf, but is also a labor of love for Thomas, who returns to Tuscaloosa as frequently as the schedule of a PGA Tour golfer allows.
“When I’m in Tuscaloosa I just am so happy,” Thomas said. “I’ve been very fortunate through the game of golf and the position I’m in, it’s taken me to some unbelievable places in the world and there’s not very many places that I’m happier than when I land in Tuscaloosa.
“I really feel at home in a way there. So being and staying involved and staying connected is something that’s very difficult for me. With our schedules it’s tough, but we wish that we could go there more.”
Thomas also keeps up with the current Alabama team. The Crimson Tide, which lost its top two players, Davis Riley (to professional golf) and Davis Shore (to a hip injury), struggled in the recent Southeastern Conference championships, but will play as a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Athens (Georgia) Regional beginning on Monday.
“I got to talk to Coach Saban about it,” Thomas said. “He said losing Davis Riley and then Davis Shore with his circumstances, they almost, they lost almost half of their team, two of their best players, when you only start five guys. And Coach Saban said to me, he said if we lost half of our players we wouldn’t win half our games. So when you put it in perspective like that, they obviously are put behind the 8-ball. But they have plenty of good players (and) can perform better than they have in some tournaments, but it’s very difficult because of the rhythm that you were, then all of a sudden you get thrown curve balls. That’s what makes Coach (Jay) Seawell a great coach, like Coach Saban. Whatever happens, he takes responsibility and goes forward.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225