It was former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson who reportedly coined the phrase ‘a week is a long time in politics,’ and it’s undoubtedly true. A week is a long time in politics, and it’s a long time in sport. As for a year? Well, it may as well be a lifetime.
It’s little more than a year since Justin Thomas blazed through the field at Southern Hills to win his second PGA Championship. Thomas, the darling of the United States Ryder and Presidents Cup sides, was back in the top five of the world rankings and, a month past his 29th birthday, seemingly in the career sweet spot that we’ve traditionally seen players produce their finest golf. And considering Mito Pereira had it in his hands on the 72nd hole only for disaster to strike, it seemed that Thomas had fortune on his side as well.
His close friend Rickie Fowler, on the other hand, was going the opposite direction. Five years Thomas’ elder, Fowler entered that week ranked 146th in the world, and three years removed from his last win at the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open, appeared to be on the other side of the hill. He’d slip to a low of 185 in the world by the time he began his 2023 season.
The PGA Championship was the only major Fowler played in 2022, and his exemption was on the basis of a top-10 finish at Kiawah Island in 2021, and as is his custom, he was among the first to greet and congratulate Thomas after he prevailed in the three-hole playoff over Will Zalatoris.
Fast forward a year and a bit, and Thomas has slipped to 20th in the world rankings, is 11th in the Ryder Cup standings, with the PGA Championship win 13 months ago the primary reason that he’s even ranked as high as he is in Zach Johnson’s team rankings. His missed cut at the Rocket Mortgage Classic was his also his third in his last four starts.
Fowler, on the back ending his four-year winless streak is up to 23rd in the world and could overtake Thomas in the coming weeks, and is ranked 16th in the Ryder Cup standings.
The question is, with six players automatically qualifying and six captain’s picks available, is Fowler now more likely to tee it up at Marco Simone than his buddy ‘JT?’
Scottie Scheffler, Wyndham Clark and Brooks Koepka are certainties, ranked one-to-three on the list, the former virtually uncatchable unless somebody goes haywire and wins multiple events in the two months left and though Koepka only has the Open Championship to accumulate further points, could only be excluded on bias if he finishes outside the top six.
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, ranked four and five respectively, have been an excellent partnership in the three team competitions they’ve played to date and, assuming Cantlay’s reported attempt at a coup d’état doesn’t sour the milk with his captain and team members, they are also locks.
There is no way that Jordan Spieth finishes inside the top-12 – he’s currently ranked eighth – and doesn’t get a pick, and Keegan Bradley, ranked seventh, has won twice including last week’s Travelers Championship and is extremely hard to leave out.
For anyone not keeping track, that’s seven of the 12 spots effectively taken by the top-eight ranked players, with only Max Homa in sixth struggling for form and in danger of playing his way out of the side.
That leaves five potential places with Homa, Thomas, Fowler, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau, Sam Burns, Cameron Young and Dustin Johnson among those who are vying for the spots, and depending on the value Zach Johnson places on current form, Fowler might well be in pole position with Thomas outside looking in.
Now hands up who saw that coming?
But if a week is a long time and a year a lifetime, then God knows what the next two months are going to throw up.