In case you haven’t heard, Justin Thomas is experiencing something of a dry spell right now. His position in the Official World Golf Rankings has plummeted from eighth to twenty-fourth since the start of 2023. JT is 77th in the FedEx Cup rankings with two weeks left in the regular season. Since the playoffs are now limited to the best 70 players, he would be eliminated from contention if they began today. He hopes to enhance his standing by doing well at the 3M Open this week. This is an unfathomable fall for a player who, at his best, ranks in the top five or so of his sport. Both a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup Team and the FedEx Cup Playoffs are in jeopardy. On the American points list, where the top six players are guaranteed spots after the BMW Championship, he is now ranked 14th. If he doesn’t make the postseason, he’ll fall farther in the standings.
THE NUMBERS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES…
What is Justin Thomas’ Ryder Cup record?
Post the 2021 event, Justin Thomas has, so far, earned 6.5 points from 9 matches: a 72% win rate.
More about Justin Thomas’ Ryder Cup record.
A serious competitor, we can look forward to many more Ryder Cup appearances by Justin Thomas:
Singles: 2 wins, no losses from 2 matches (100% win rate).
Fourball: 2 wins, no losses and a half from 3 matches (83% win rate)
Foursomes: 2 win, 2 losses from 4 matches (50% win rate).
Thomas has emerged as a key player for the U.S. squad over the past few years. His play has been superb, to be sure, but his theatrics have served to his advantage by frustrating the Europeans. Thomas is playing in both the 3M Open this week and the Wyndham Championship the following week due to his perilous position in the FedEx Cup standings and the Ryder Cup points list. Thomas can improve his chances of being selected as a captain of his team or of cracking the top 70 and making the playoffs with consistent play.
If you had told someone in May of 2022 that Justin Thomas wouldn’t be playing in the Ryder Cup because of his terrible play, they would have laughed you out of the room. He had recently won the PGA Championship at Southern Hills and appeared to be on track for more success at the major championship level. Since his PGA victory, Thomas has played in 24 tournaments with a full field, but he has only managed four top-10 performances. This season, he ranks 43rd in Strokes Gained: Total, down from 6th the previous year. Thomas has gone from being an all-star to being a decent player. The primary reasons for this are a decline in his use of the driver and other irons.
Zach Johnson, as captain, is in a precarious position after this misstep. Thomas’s current performance level does not justify his inclusion in the Ryder Cup. However, he is well-liked by the other American superstars and is one of the biggest names in the player pool. If Thomas keeps his current level of performance and Johnson still selects him, it will be seen as a political rather than a merit-based decision. This selection process is typical of previous editions and tends to favor players who are popular rather than those who play well. It might spark a revolt among players who, together, have stronger credentials from the past two seasons.
Truth be told, most golfers consider making the Ryder Cup squad a career highlight. Similar to being selected for an all-star game in other sports, this honor recognizes sustained achievement over a number of seasons. Ryder Cups serve as a yardstick by which to compare the careers of American and European greats of yesteryear. An incredible feat, Phil Mickelson played in every Ryder Cup from 1995-2018. Also, I think it would look great on Justin Thomas’s resume if he had participated in seven or eight straight Ryder Cups. He is currently counting to two. There are only three spots left, and Thomas is competing with Keegan Bradley (2012, 2014) for one of them. Bradley’s remarkable longevity in the industry would be highlighted if he were to make the 2023 squad.
Ryder Cup selections not only add prestige to a player’s resume but also pay well. Players that make the Ryder Cup team have a better chance of receiving large sums of money via the PGA Tour’s new Player Incentive Program (PIP), which rewards players who bring in the most attention and media coverage for the sport. If Justin Thomas makes the team, he could make seven figures between sponsor bonuses and potential player incentive payments. Of course, it’s also very valuable to the stragglers with whom Thomas is vying for a spot in the Ryder Cup. A berth on the Ryder Cup Team would be a huge boost in exposure for golfers like Cameron Young, Sam Burns, and others. Players are not compensated for their participation in the Ryder Cup, yet doing so still provides a significant financial benefit. It also lays the stage for complaints if Thomas falters in the final stretch but still makes the team.
Thomas has a good argument, though. If he performs well at the 3M and Wyndham, makes the playoffs and maintains his form during the postseason events, he will likely be selected. But if he struggles and doesn’t improve his current FedEx Cup standing of 77th to make the playoffs, that will be a huge problem for Zach Johnson. Oh yeah, and who can forget this moment in France when he and Daniel Berger Shotgunned Beers in front of screeming American fans… I for one loved it!
The PGA, the DP World Tour, the TV partners, the advertisers, and anyone else with a financial stake in the Ryder Cup would love to have Justin Thomas on their squad. He has the capacity to attract a wider, non-golfing audience to a tournament than almost any other golfer. For the first time in 30 years, the Ryder Cup will be played on European territory, and Johnson must balance the expectations of others with his responsibility to assemble the greatest possible American squad. If JT keeps playing poorly, it will be difficult to argue that he is your best bet for victory. A legacy selection would also certainly spark controversy and disagreement among fans and players who were overlooked for the spot. There has been a change in the U.S. national team’s identity in recent years, from one based on special treatment to one based on meritocracy. Unless Thomas significantly raises his game, selecting him would be a throwback to the good ol’ boys ethos of the past few decades.
The political pressure on Zach Johnson has been increased by the announcement this week that Justin Thomas would participate in Johnson’s fundraising outing in Des Moines. There would be intense pressure from players and the media if Thomas made the team without showing significant improvement in the next two weeks.
The aforementioned modification to the FedEx Cup structure adds yet another layer. The PGA Tour has reduced the number of qualifying spots for the playoffs from 125 to 70 this season. With a decent week or two of performance in the past, JT’s chances of advancing were never in doubt, and he could realistically play in numerous playoff events. Switching to a top-70 format was a brilliant change that has worked out beautifully thus far. Thomas probably wouldn’t have played the 3M if he had already clinched a playoff spot. Fans in Minnesota can finally witness one of the sport’s most recognizable athletes compete for actual money. The Thomas case has given this week’s news a dramatic edge it otherwise wouldn’t have had. Intensifying competition for playoff spots has woken up a period of the season that is often quiet. The events and the audience members both benefit from that. Personally, I hope he has a great game. With Justin Thomas as a competitor, the Ryder Cup will be more exciting than if he were an assistant captain