Justin Thomas’ Open Championship disaster has Ryder Cup implications

Mark Cannizzaro


July 21, 2023 | 19:15

HOYLAKE, England – Justin Thomas would surely walk straight off the 18th green and straight to the parking lot, throw his golf clubs in the trunk, slam the door and get the hell out of Hoylake after his hellish British Open experience ended Friday at Royal Liverpool.

No one would have blamed Thomas if he had done just that. Shooting 11-over through two rounds to miss the cut by eight shots at a major championship will do for a player who has won two of them and has high expectations for himself.

Thomas is one of the most talented, decorated players in the sport, but he’s in an inexplicable funk at the moment. It’s really not fair to call it inexplicable because golf lacks explanation.

How could a player with Thomas’ supreme ability and imagination shoot a career-worst 82 in the first round Thursday, a day fittingly marked by his quadruple-bogey 9 on the final hole, the par-5 18th?

Because it’s golf.

Justin Thomas reacts after a shot during the second round of the British Open.
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Justin Thomas points for a tee shot during the second round of the British Open.
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Thomas followed that nightmare with a much more respectable and representative even par 71 on Friday in the second round and found solace in it.

The problem for Thomas at the moment is this: He needs more than comfort. He needs results. He needs Ryder Cup and FedExCup points like he needs oxygen.

Thomas is in a fight to stay relevant enough that Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson, with whom he happens to be sharing a rental house this week, is making him a captain’s pick for the U.S. team that travels to Italy in September.

Justin Thomas acknowledges the crowd after chipping in on the 14th hole on day two of The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
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When I spoke with Thomas at the Travelers Championship last month, days after he missed the cut at the US Open after a second-round 81, he talked about some new things he’d been working on in his swing with his father and coach, Mike Thomas, and that he hadn’t relied on those things at the US Open.

Thomas then went out and shot 64-62-67 in his final three rounds at Travelers to finish tied for ninth. But whatever worked that week in Connecticut didn’t stick, as Thomas missed the cut the following week at Rocket Mortgage and then tied for 60th at the Scottish Open last week.

And then Thursday came.

It was hard to watch as Thomas, already in the middle of a terrible round, made a mess of the 18th hole, hitting from one greenside pot bunker to another, looking like a 15 handicap and taking a 9 on the hole.

“To do two doubles and a quad, that’s an 8-year-old, 9-year-old kind of thing, not someone trying to win the British Open,” Thomas said Friday. “You just can’t do something like that.”

Such a thing jeopardizes Thomas’ chance of making the 12-man Ryder Cup team, something that would be devastating for him given his success as a team member. He is currently 13th in the US Ryder Cup standings, and the top six from August 20 are automatically on the team.

Justin Thomas tees off on the 3rd hole on day two of The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
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So Thomas, 75th in the FedExCup standings and in danger of not qualifying for the playoffs, has a lot of work to do in a short amount of time to show Johnson he’s worthy of going to Rome this fall to take on Europe.

“I want to make the Ryder Cup more than anything else,” Thomas said. “I’m probably trying too hard to do that, honestly.”

After his round on Friday, Johnson was asked if he is “concerned” about Thomas’ current form.

“Well, as a friend and roommate, I’m concerned just because he’s my buddy and I know what he’s capable of,” Johnson said. “Obviously he’s a stalwart in that event. I don’t know his record off the top of my head, but I know it’s pretty good.”

It is. Thomas has a 6-2-1 record in two previous Ryder Cup appearances and is 10-3-2 in three Presidents Cups.

“Those kind of moments like that, he’s one of the best around,” Johnson said. “Bottom line is this game is really tough. There’s going to be peaks, there’s going to be some valleys. Let’s hope that whatever kind of non-peak he’s in, it’s short. The kid doesn’t give up. I hope he can find some form.”

Rory McIlroy, one of Thomas’ close friends, insisted: “JT will be just fine.”

“JT is one of the most talented guys out there,” McIlroy said. “We all go through bad patches. That’s golf. There’s not one player in the world who hasn’t. But he’s got the right people around him and he’s got the right work ethic to get through it.”

Thomas said his loss of form “doesn’t make sense.”

“I’m hitting like a No. 1 player in the world and then I make a 9 on my last hole of the tournament,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a focus thing or I’m just putting too much pressure on myself or whatever, but once I figure it out, I’ll be better for it.”

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