Road to Rome
British Open 2023: Did Zach Johnson drop hints about his U.S. Ryder Cup team?
HOYLAKE, England — Things are starting to get real for U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Zach Johnson. Yes, of course, there's still time. The Ryder Cup is still more than two months away. But the Open Championship is the last major of the season. It represents the last, best chance for players to grab a bunch of points, and send a message to this team.
Speaking after his two-under second-round 69, Johnson spent some time with the media talking about his Ryder Cup team that's quickly taking shape.
"I've had a handful of conversations," Johnson said. "Considering we're two months removed, it goes with the territory."
Over the course of the press conference, Johnson mentioned a variety of potential players. Some in the automatic spots. Some angling for a pick. It presents a perfect opportunity for us to overanalyze some of the things Zach Johnson said, and read a little too much into them.
Let's dive into a little bit of harmless speculation.
On Brooks Koepka
"I don't know how many tournaments Brooks has won, but it seems to me when the gravity is at its highest or strongest, he seems to bring out the best."
"I wish he was still on the PGA Tour just because I enjoy watching him play and admire how he goes about his work."
"We've had quite a few talks, just he and I, as of late prior to this week. And text exchanges. But that was completely random. I'm glad it worked out because it was good to rub shoulders with him again because it's been quite some time."
Brooks Koepka is a lock for the team following his PGA Championship win, and despite some early concerns over how he may meld with the rest of the PGA Tour-playing team, Captain Zach doesn't seem concerned. He played a practice round with Koepka earlier this week, seems to be in communication with him, and clearly respects his game.
Jared C. Tilton
On Justin Thomas
"Five Cups. It fuels him. You can tell he wants to be there."
"I haven't had direct conversations on what's going on."
"As a friend and roommate, I'm concerned just because he's my buddy and I know what he's capable of and that sort of thing."
"He's a stalwart in that event. In those kinds of moments like that, he's one of the best there is."
"Let's hope whatever sort of non-peak he's in, it's short. I know he's got a great team. I love his coaches. I love how he works. He's a worker. Guys with talent like that, who aren't afraid to put their work in the dirt, if you will, not to be cliche, typically find it. It's just a matter of when, not if. He's too darned good."
My best read on these responses was that ZJ thinks JT's game is both really good, and going to quickly return to its best form. To me, the kind of glowing praise of his work ethic—and highlighting of the "stalwart's" past Ryder Cup record—suggests Thomas will land a captain's pick.
On Brian Harman
"I want all these guys to make my job difficult. That's what I signed up for."
"You go down the list. I want all those guys in good form. I want them to make my decision really difficult."
The man who raced into a big 36 hole lead is currently 20th in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings, but would likely earn an automatic spot with a win here. Even if he doesn't win, he'll insert himself firmly into the conversation. Johnson didn't address Harman's chances directly. But in response to a question asked about whether Harman playing well made his job more difficult, he seemed to relish the difficult decision which may land his way. Still very much in wait-and-see mode, though.
Jared C. Tilton
On Collin Morikawa
"I've also seen the inexperience or rookies go out there and it looks like they've been in that position for 25 years. Collin Morikawa would be another good example. He was a rookie with two majors under his belt already."
Morikawa is currently ninth in the U.S. team standings, and you could read this quote one of two ways: Good for Morikawa, because clearly Zach Johnson was impressed with how well he played at Whistling Straits; and/or good for potential incoming rookies, whose lack of experience doesn't seem to be something Johnson will hold against them.
On Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth
"DJ seems to do that [play his best when the pressure is on]."
"Jordan seems to do that."
Just two quick comments here from Zach Johnson about Spieth (currently ninth on the standings) and DJ currently (35th). But ZJ bringing up the latter player is interesting. If ZJ seems to think the leading points-scorer of the last Ryder Cup plays his best under the most intense pressure, it suggests he's firmly in consideration for a pick.
Of course, this is all just needless (but fun!) speculation. Only time will tell. And maybe the final 36 holes of the Open Championship will help us make sense of it all.
Is it the British Open or the Open Championship? The name of the final men’s major of the golf season is a subject of continued discussion. The event’s official name, as explained in this op-ed by former R&A chairman Ian Pattinson, is the Open Championship. But since many United States golf fans continue to refer to it as the British Open, and search news around the event accordingly, Golf Digest continues to utilize both names in its coverage.
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