It may not have the “did you see that?” focus of Taylor Swift’s appearance at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, but when Friday finally arrives for this Ryder Cup, it’s Justin Thomas who is likely to have the most eyes on him.
Thomas, depending on which side of the captain’s-pick fence you stand, is that guy.
Even now, or especially now, captain Zach Johnson’s decision to spend one of six picks on Thomas despite a season that defined underachievement, elicits reactions from both sides.
Strange as it sounds, there are fans of the American team who aren’t necessarily pulling for Thomas because they don’t think he belongs on the team. That’s how polarizing his selection to the team has been.
It’s crazy, but it’s true.
And it’s time to get past that.
It wasn’t just Johnson who picked Thomas. It was the six automatic qualifiers who wanted him with them at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome, Italy, this week, and their opinion matters the most.
“The only thing that mattered to me was that Zach and the vice captains and the … other six guys on the team wanted me on the team. What I told [Johnson] is…, obviously, of course, I want to be on the team, yeah. I think that I can compete and that I can go out there and I can do great for the team. But at the end of the day, if the six guys in that room don’t think that I’m what’s best for the team, then I don’t deserve to go.
“That’s been my thought the whole time, and I’m very glad that they did and do have faith in me.”
The reasoning for Thomas’ selection goes beyond his lukewarm 2023 season. It’s about the things that teams look for when they are building a roster. It’s not just about someone’s speed or their shooting percentage. It’s about how they play and what they add to the greater good.
“I think he’s kind of turned into a backbone for the USA Ryder Cup team.” – Jordan Spieth
That’s where Thomas separates from some others, who may have had better results but aren’t as integral to the team as Thomas is, having built up that equity and experience over the years.
“I think he’s kind of turned into a backbone for the USA Ryder Cup team,” said Jordan Spieth, noting that he thinks Thomas had prepared himself for the disappointment of not being chosen.
“The elevated pressure and honestly the away games and kind of the opportunity to go like that, like he does, and to raise the crowd up, the home crowd, but also to quiet one and upset them here, he loves doing that, and it creates maybe just a little extra level of focus for him… I’ve been beside him for these Ryder Cups, and he quite simply plays better golf than the guys across from him.”
That’s documented in Thomas’s 6-2-1 Ryder Cup record. Granted, Thomas was on the U.S. team that was dominated by the Europeans in Paris five years ago, but he went 4-1-0 that week.
With Spieth, Thomas has become a team leader, something the American side has lacked in some previous Ryder Cups.
“He has all the intangibles and the innate ability to rally guys around him and be a leader vocally but also without having to say much,” Johnson said.
“There’s a lot of, I’d say, invaluable elements when it comes to J.T. and this event, and I can say this in full confidence with our six guys that made this team: Those guys were adamant they wanted those six other guys to help complete their team, and J.T. was one of them.”
Missing five cuts in eight starts late in the season threw Thomas into the maybe/maybe not category as selection day approached. He showed flashes of improvement at the Wyndham Championship, but his season was such that he failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Beyond the technical tweaks in his swing, Thomas had to reset his attitude. He always has been tough on himself, and it got worse as his frustrating season unfolded.
“More than anything, I’m just in a good head space, and that’s – for me, that’s what’s most important,” said Thomas, 30, a two-time major champion who has won 15 times on the PGA Tour.
“I did not feel like I could win golf tournaments this past year with the state that I was in mentally. Yeah, a lot of that has to do with how I was playing, and one does generally feed off of the other, but I just feel like I’m in a lot better place.”
Is Thomas at a place where Johnson might send him out to hit the Americans’ opening tee shot Friday morning when foursomes play begins?
“I was putting so much emphasis and so much pressure on trying to play well to make the Ryder Cup, as opposed to trying to make the playoffs, which is a wild concept, but unfortunately just the way my mind was working. – Justin Thomas
That might be a stretch, but it also might send a message to Thomas and the team, which doesn’t need reminding that it has been 30 years since the U.S. team has taken the Ryder Cup home from overseas.
If the Americans lose and Thomas has a so-so performance, he’s likely to get the bulk of the blame. It won’t be fair, but it comes with the territory.
But if the Americans win and Thomas is in the middle of it, he figures to have played a big part in changing both the outcome and the narrative.
For Thomas, just getting to this Ryder Cup was the hard part. Now comes the fun part.
“The U.S. Open was a really, really low place for me. I was playing arguably the best golf I’ve played in years going into there, and I shot a thousand and almost finished last. So that’s a pretty bad feeling, to be perfectly honest,” Thomas said.
“But then I played well the next week [T-9 at Travelers Championship], so it just was weird. I was putting so much emphasis and so much pressure on trying to play well to make the Ryder Cup, as opposed to trying to make the playoffs, which is a wild concept, but unfortunately just the way my mind was working. I don’t know what it was.
“I wasn’t losing sleep at night thinking, Oh, if I had done this differently or I could have done that differently and so on and so forth. Just glad it worked out the way it did for me to be here.”
© 2023 Global Golf Post LLC
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?