Ryder Cup

Justin Thomas solely focused on winning Ryder Cup after being selected to US team

Thomas, in the midst of a slump, was a controversial pick for the U.S. team by captain Zach Johnson

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Justin Thomas is too occupied with helping the Americans end three decades of losing the Ryder Cup on European soil to worry about any criticism of him being part of that effort.

U.S. captain Zach Johnson had no second thoughts about using one of his six wild-card selections on Thomas, in a slump so severe that he failed to reach the PGA Tour's postseason for the first time in his career.

Neither did the six automatic qualifiers or vice captains who had a voice in the selections. Thomas has been an emotional spark in his two Ryder Cup appearances, along with a 6-2-1 record in France and Wisconsin.

As for anyone else, Thomas says he has a short memory when it comes to criticism.

“I definitely haven't kept the receipts,” he said Tuesday. "I don't feel like there is any good that can come from that. When it comes to stuff online, everybody has got an opinion, and theirs is right and everybody else's is wrong. ... The only thing that mattered to me was that Zach and the vice captains and the other six guys wanted me on the team.

“And now that I'm here, all of us hold the same weight as the other one,” he said. “We are all one, and it's just our job to go out there and try to win points.”

That seemed much easier the last time at Whistling Straits before a one-sided gallery against an aging European team.

This version of Team Europe has a core of experience that is heavy at the top — Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, newly crowned FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland and a back room that has lot years of heritage from players who defected to LIV Golf but not the template of success.

Tuesday was the first full day of practice, with the Americans starting on the back nine at Marco Simone and the Europeans on the front nine, both facing a tough walk over hills and vales that figures to be taxing in the warmer-than-usual weather.

Pairings for the first session are not announced until the opening ceremony Thursday afternoon, though how the teams were paired in practice offered plenty of clues — the Scandinavia duo of Hovland and Ludvig Aberg of Sweden, the English duo of U.S. Open champions Justin Rose and Matt Fitzpatrick.

European captain Luke Donald cautioned not to read too much into that — those who went off first had media obligations later in the day.

“We do have a plan in place, and that plan can be adjusted throughout the next few days,” he said. “The vice captains are out there watching the players and seeing how they look and how they feel and all that goes into it.”

For the Americans, it was obvious even before practice rounds. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele have been partners since their first Presidents Cup in 2019 (with one exception at Whistling Straits), while Thomas and Jordan Spieth have been friends since they were in their early teens and partners dating to 2018.

Spieth also was a captain's pick, minus the scrutiny. He referred to Thomas as the backbone for this Ryder Cup team, even though Spieth has twice as many (four) appearances.

So what makes Thomas so good in this team environment? His record is 16-5-3 when the Presidents Cup — with far less intensity and attention — is included.

“He just gets the ball in the hole faster than other guys do, and that’s how you win matches here and that’s how you play good golf,” Spieth said. "The elevated pressure ... to raise up the home crowd but also to quiet and upset them here, he loves doing that. And it created 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.”

The one time Cantlay didn't have Schauffele at his side, he and Thomas halved a fourballs match at Whistling Straits against Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood.

“He is not afraid of the moment he's in,” Cantlay said. “His record speaks for itself. He's been the best Ryder Cup player probably in the last decade. I think any time you have a chance to have that guy on your team, you want him.”

Thomas was out of action for six weeks after failing to finish among the top 70 in the FedEx Cup who advance to the postseason. He returned two weeks ago at the Fortinet Championship and finished fifth. Equally valuable was the scouting trip to Marco Simone, not only to see the course but to genuinely feel like one of 12.

And all 12 are trying to put an end to a losing streak away from home that dates back to 1993, the year Spieth and Thomas were born, and before five Americans on the U.S. team were even born.

“I think that’s been made very clear to us over the last few months,” Spieth said. "It’s not something we really care about, to be honest. Most of the guys weren’t on any of those losing away teams. I was on two of them, but I felt like I played good golf. And all you can try and do is have a winning record.

“And if everyone on your team does, you dominate the other team.”

Spieth was so bullish on the U.S. team immediately after its 19-9 victory in the last Ryder Cup that he said if they played the same way in Italy, the result would be the same. But he also said that day the Americans can't seize control of the series until they win on the road.

“Guys who have played one and lost one over here probably feel that way,” Spieth said. “But it has nothing to do with 30 years of it.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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