Justin Thomas has been sharing a house here at the Open with Zach Johnson, the US Ryder Cup captain. Which must have made conversation a touch tricky over breakfast on Friday morning. Thomas, who holds the best record of any American player to have competed in two or more Ryder Cups and formed an unbeatable double act with his friend Jordan Spieth, has had an abysmal time on the fairways of the Royal Liverpool Club. His opening round of 82 was eleven over par and included a near-comical nine on the final hole.
“I’m just making so many boneheaded mistakes,” he said after he had completed his second round on Friday which, while a moderately respectable 71, still left him marooned below the cut. “You’ve got to be smart and not make too many mistakes. But I mean two double [bogeys] and a quad, that’s eight-year-old, nine-year-old stuff. Not someone who’s trying to win the British Open.”
Worse, this is not an unexpected aberration. Since he won the USPGA last May, the 30 year old has missed the cut in three successive majors.
“Crazy things are happening,” was his description of his decline in form.
In fact he has not won a single competition since his triumph last year. He is so far off the pace, he has no chance of making the US team for September’s scrap with the Europeans on merit.
“I want to make the Ryder Cup more than anything,” he said. “I’m probably trying too hard to do it. It reminds me of my first years on tour, I tried so hard to make that team for the first time. I’ve been trying to make it easy on Zach and get in the top six. But I seem to not want to do that with my golf.”
His problems were evident on his second round. Some of his play was superb. He drove the ball far longer than either of his playing partners, and was producing fine second shots to set up birdie chances. But time and again he squandered them.
“He needs a few birdies or he’s going home,” somebody said in the crowd as he blew another opportunity. As observations go, it couldn’t have been bettered.
But he didn’t record a birdie until the tenth, by which time it was way too late to turn his fortunes around. Nor was it the start of a bonanza; he bogeyed the 13th. At the 14th, however, there was a fleeting reminder of his skill, when he delivered a beautiful chip from at least 25 yards straight into the hole. He followed it with another birdie on 15, before succumbing once again to a horror show bogey bonanza on the 18th. There, when he chipped weakly into the bunker where he had suffered so badly the evening before, the reaction in the grandstand must have been painful indeed: someone started laughing.
“It’s been tough,” he said when asked whether his father, Mike, who acts as his coach, is equally perturbed. “Dad feels bad as a coach and hates it for me as a father. Neither one of us wants anything to be bad, we’re trying as hard as we can. It makes no sense. I’ll hit shots like a number one player in the world, then make a nine on the last hole. I don’t know if it’s a focus thing, or I’m putting too much pressure on myself. Whatever it is, I’ll work it out.”
As for his Ryder Cup chances, he now knows they are entirely dependent on his temporary housemate.
“It’s not like I’m going to write him a love letter,” he said of Johnson. “I would like to think my record is my best argument. I love the team events, I thrive in them, playing with a partner could ease me a little bit, relax me. I hate even having to hope for a pick. This is the first time since I first qualified I’m having to rely on a captain’s pick. It’s not fun.” The good news for him - and, a cynic might suggest, for fans of the European team hoping that a player in such abject form lines up against them in September - is that Johnson was keen to suggest he is still in with a chance of making it.
“I might be slightly concerned, like I said, as a friend,” he said. “But I’m not worried about him because I know what he does and I know what he’s capable of.”
Leeds support buoys Thomas
Not that everything has gone entirely wrong for Thomas during his week in England. Along with Spieth, he is part of the conglomerate that has just bought Leeds United. And he revealed he had been hugely encouraged by the support coming from the club’s supporters in the stands.
“It’s definitely the most cheers I’ve got here,” he smiled. “I need to learn some chants. I heard quite few these last five days. One thing, I’m not going to be that guy who acts like he knows a lot, because I don’t.”
If he is keen to learn, he knows what to do: now he has a free weekend, he could do worse than head over the Pennines to check out his new investment.