Ryder Cup 2016: Case for Justin Thomas as U.S. Captain’s Pick

September 6, 2016
Ryder Poster_Thomas_960.jpg

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III has a daunting job ahead of him: filling the four spots on his squad reserved for wildcard picks. Who’s on DLIII’s short list? Presumably he already has his favorites — and we have ours. Each day in the run-up to Sept. 12, when Love will announce three of his picks (he won’t name his final pick until Sept. 26, the Monday after the Tour Championship), a GOLF.com staffer will make the case for a player who deserves the nod. Up next, Justin Thomas. Who do you think belongs on the team? Let us know here.

Justin Thomas doesn’t have a particularly good major record. Or any Ryder Cup experience. Or even many tournament titles. Let’s just get all of that out of the way at the beginning, because those aren’t the reasons why the PGA Tour sophomore should be on this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup roster.

The reason that Justin Thomas should be one of Davis Love’s four captain’s picks is his response to a question posed by the Golf Channel at the year’s first tournament in January.

You can do one of two things: Either win a major championship this season or play on a winning Ryder Cup team–

“Winning Ryder Cup team. Hands down.”

Winning Ryder Cup team? No hesitation.

“Hands down.”

He answered quickly and honestly (and was promptly panned for his opinion), but it signaled the beginning of a new era of enthusiasm for a team that has failed to match the intensity of its competition for nearly a decade. It’s passion – not a new captain or a new task force or a new “stats guy” – that could deliver Team USA’s long-sought reversal of fortune.

So give us Thomas and the other rookies desperate to be there.

The squad needs to get younger. In 2014, Jordan Spieth (then 21) and Patrick Reed (then 24) entered as rookies with strong match play records but no Ryder Cup experience. They gave the Yanks a much-needed jolt, matching the passion of Europe’s Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia. Spieth and Reed are back this year, and along with Brooks Koepka (26) and potential captain’s pick Rickie Fowler (27), they provide a steady base for years to come. Thomas, 23, could be a key cog in American success for years to come alongside this new generation.

RYDER CUP CAPTAIN’S PICKS: The Case For … Rickie Fowler  |  J.B. Holmes  |  Matt Kuchar  |  Bill Haas  |  Bubba Watson  |  Will McGirt  |  Scott Piercy

So let’s support the youth movement. The likes of Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson – while accomplished players on Tour – haven’t been getting the job done. Furyk is 10-20-4 all-time and has the most losses is U.S. history. Watson is 3-8-0 and has the second worst winning percentage among players with eight or more matches. You know what you’re getting here.

Thomas, however, boasts a rock-solid amateur record in the format. As one of the leaders on the 2013 Walker Cup, Thomas was 2-0-1 in a 17-9 thrashing of Great Britain & Ireland. He also was 2-0-1 on the winning Palmer Cup team that year.

Does beating Max Orrin 6&4 in the Walker Cup translate to taking on, say, Lee Westwood in a Sunday singles match? Well, no. But Thomas’ main attribute – his prodigious length – makes him a dangerous match-play partner against anyone, and being a long hitter allows for him to be paired with a solid, steady, veteran putter in foursomes. (Brandt Snedeker, anyone?)

If Captain Love truly wants to turn the tide, then he needs to think long term. Lay the foundation now, and pick Justin Thomas. (And Daniel Berger. But more on that tomorrow.)