124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2



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Yes, Justin Thomas absolutely should have made the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and here's why

August 29, 2023
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Justin Thomas has been the emotional leader of the American team for the past two Ryder Cups.

Richard Heathcote

If you haven't participated in the “Justin Thomas: Should he or shouldn't he?" Ryder Cup discourse over the past couple weeks, let me give you a brief summary in the form of a dialogue:

Person A: I think Justin Thomas should make the Ryder Cup team despite iffy form because his career Ryder Cup record is outstanding, the team loves him and he's a better asset in Rome than anyone else on the list.

Person B: He doesn't deserve to be there. He's not playing well enough. His record doesn't matter because of his struggles this year.

Person A: You're not paying enough attention to history and how different the Ryder Cup is from any stroke-play event.

Person B: You're a dirty media shill, part of the same old-boys clique as Thomas himself, and your home should be burned to the ground.

It's been fun! If you have a chance to be grouped with Thomas in some secretive conspiracy despite never having had a one-on-one discussion with him EVER, you've got to take it! However, I will say it's gotten kind of political; there are LIV vs. PGA Tour undertones, and in general it has followed the unfriendly path of many such conversations in recent days/months/years.

Now, as of today, we know he's on the team—captain Zach Johnson picked him. Which makes this a good time to assert one last time that Johnson made the smart move, that Thomas should be on the team and that everyone who disagrees is as wrong as music on the golf course.

And guess what? It was the right call even if Thomas loses at the Ryder Cup. Nobody knows what the results of this Ryder Cup will be, or how Thomas will play, so everyone—including and especially Johnson—has to operate with the intelligence at their fingertips today. Obviously, if Thomas struggles, the naysayers are going to pounce. They shouldn't; it's the right call because it's the right call today, and if things go south a month from now in Italy, it will still have been the right call.

Here are eight very simple reasons why Thomas belongs on the team.

He's 16-5-3 in Presidents Cups and Ryder Cups combined, and 6-2-1 in just Ryder Cups.

Thomas is on a path to be the best team match-play golfer in U.S. history, and this is the single most salient, repeatable, and critical fact in this entire debate. Nothing matters more. He's a great winner in this format, period. This matters so much more than recent form and is by far the best predictor of how he might fare in Italy. The fact that he shot an 82 on Thursday at the Open Championship, or (name any other struggle) is ancient history and won't matter one bit. He's a fearsome match play opponent, and that's just what you need.

He's a road warrior, and it's wildly difficult to play on the road in the Ryder Cup

Thomas went 4-1 in the Paris Ryder Cup, including a singles victory over Rory McIlroy, while almost everyone else on the American team was getting smoked. He kept the U.S. alive in the Melbourne Presidents Cup while the rest of the team sleepwalked through the first two days. This guy is a major road hound, and that's exactly what you need in a situation like the one facing the U.S., which hasn't won a Ryder Cup on European soil in 30 years. The idea that you can throw someone like Lucas Glover or Cam Young or Keegan Bradley out there and expect them to be ready to handle that fire in the same way is borderline absurd.

Form is overrated at the Ryder Cup

The classic example of a guy in rocky form comes from Ian Poulter, who failed to qualify for five of his seven Ryder Cups. Europe took him because they knew he was a stone-cold killer, and what happened? He stone-cold killed.

In 2018 in Paris, Thomas Bjorn took a risk in loading his captain's picks with successful veterans, and those veterans, like Sergio Garcia (3-1) and Henrik Stenson (3-0) delivered in big ways. Yes, you can find examples of players on bad form performing disastrously, but you can also find those who came in on a hot streak but cooled down in the month between the season's end and the Ryder Cup.

Even considering No. 3, his form isn't even that bad

It's not great! But it's not horrible. With a guy this good at the Ryder Cup, you just need some signs of life, and Thomas' T-12 finish at the Wyndham gives you plenty. The last six months have seen him at his lowest ebb, but he's still gaining strokes on his fellow pros in that time span. Go back two years, and he's 11th among all players. The numbers matter less than you think, but let's be abundantly clear that this isn't some guy in total freefall.

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Justin Thomas celebrates 2021 Ryder Cup win.

Mike Ehrmann

Everyone likes him, and this is not a bad thing

The "old boys club" argument is often used against Thomas, but—this may shock you—it's actually a positive thing when your chemistry with the rest of the team is good. If you watched Johnson earlier today, part of his rationale for almost every pick was "they're a big addition to the team room." Thomas is popular; so what? It's obviously not the only reason to take a guy, but in concert with everything else, it's another mark in his favor.

"Deserve" ain't got nothing to do with it

There are six people who "deserve" to be on the Ryder Cup team, and those are the six players who qualified automatically. Nobody else deserves to be on the team, and the fundamental reason why Johnson has six captain's picks is that it gives him freedom to construct the best team he can. You don't deserve it because you won two straight events in August, like Glover, or because you won the Travelers, like Bradley, or because you played well in the majors, like Young, or because you shot a 58, like Bryson DeChambeau. Justin Thomas doesn't "deserve" it, either! Only six people do! After that, literally every potential player, no matter the ranking, is a pawn to be used or not used in the greater strategic game that is Ryder Cup roster construction. Any argument that uses the word "deserve" should be thrown immediately into the nearest trash can.

He will infuse his team with confidence

Opponents hate to play against Thomas, and his teammates love to play with him. This could be grouped with some of the points above, but it bears repeating: the Ryder Cup, particularly on the road, is a battle, and any player who strengthens and emboldens his own side is worth his weight in gold. Maybe Thomas will play with Jordan Spieth, or maybe he'll play with someone else, but no matter what his role, you can bet that his partner is going to feel really good walking onto that first tee with the greatest team golfer of his generation.

He's got plenty of time to sharpen his game

There is a huge gap between the end of the season and the Ryder Cup, and an even bigger one for Thomas, since he missed this year's playoffs. He cares a ton about this event, and you can bet he's going to be working like a madman to get ready. We saw something similar with Collin Morikawa at Whistling Straits; he came in on so-so form, but worked his tail off to be ready, and then went 4-0-1 because, like Thomas, he's a gamer who loves the big stage.

That's plenty of justification—I probably could have stopped at No. 1. No matter what happens in Italy, Johnson made the correct call including Thomas. He's the kind of player you want on your side in the cauldron, and there is no hotter and more stressful cauldron than a Ryder Cup in Europe.

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