Zach Johnson: “You just don’t leave JT out”

Mark McGowan

Zach Johnson (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

US Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson has announced his wildcard selections for next month’s showdown in Rome, and while some names were easy to select, others proved more difficult but the two-time major winner is confident that the six names he eventually arrived at – Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sam Burns, Collin Morikawa and Rickie Fowler – will give the United States their best chance of securing a first victory on European soil in 30 years.

Of those names, Justin Thomas may be the one that hardest to justify given the relatively poor form that the double PGA Championship winner has shown in 2023 with just two top-10 finishes to his name and missed cuts in three of the four majors, but Johnson is more concerned with the dynamic that Thomas brings to the team room.

“He has without doubt been the heart and soul of our team,” Johnson said. “He has a fantastic Ryder Cup record and his passion for the Ryder Cup is very evident. In my mind he was born for this. You just don’t leave JT out.”


Later, Johnson would be asked about Thomas’ lack of form and how concerning it had been for his vice-captains and he.

“Obviously form is a part of our decision-making process,” he explained. “There are a number of elements in that process and that is one of them but so is: fit for the golf course, fit for the team room, experience and in my mind passion and full confidence that is where he belongs. It came down to being a pretty easy pick. Especially when the top six guys took some ownership as well.”

While the team captain had little doubt as to Thomas’ pedigree, the player himself wasn’t entirely confident that he’d done enough in previous team events to ensure a ticket to Rome.

“I have had a lot of sleepless nights wondering whether I was on the team or not,” Thomas said. “Then last night after the call from Zach, I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited. I wouldn’t want to go into battle with any other crew.”

Whilst Thomas’ selection was a doubt due to his poor performances on the course, the same definitely can’t be said of Brooks Koepka who managed to accrue more Ryder Cup ranking points than any of the other five selections but, due to being overtaken late by Xander Schauffele and Max Homa, remained a doubt for a Rome wildcard pick due to his status as a LIV golfer.

“He is made for the big occasion and there is no bigger than the Ryder Cup,” Johnson explained. His buddies want him in the team and I am delighted to have him.”

Koepka, who has two wins and a loss in his three appearances, is unbeaten in Sunday singles. He said: “Teeing it up at the Ryder Cup was the most nervous I have been and I’ve always wanted to go get a point for the team. We have a great group of guys, it is going to be a fun week.”

Asked whether any other LIV players had been in consideration or had received phone calls to let them know that they hadn’t been selected, Johnson was a little vague but did say that he’d gone down the rankings list until about “22 or 24, somewhere like that,” and made phone calls to all of those to deliver the bad news.

Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, the only other likely candidates in the LIV stable, are both ranked outside the top 40 in the US standings so it appears that neither got a call, but when pressed about his namesake, the captain said that Dustin had the opportunity to play his way into contention just like Brooks had done, but ultimately hadn’t done enough to warrant serious consideration.

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