Three of the members of the United States Ryder Cup side who were convincingly defeated in Rome six weeks ago have spoken out in defence of team captain Zach Johnson who came in for widespread criticism in the aftermath.
Johnson himself cited “time management” as his major regret, suggesting that he didn’t put the United States “in the best position for success” but his players have moved to shoulder the lion’s share of the blame.
Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele, speaking to The Palm Beach Post at the opening of Panther National, a course co-designed by Thomas and Jack Nicklaus, were unanimous in the view that the players themselves didn’t produce the goods on the course.
“The No. 1 regret he should have is we should have played better,” Thomas said. “We all told him that, ‘Zach, it’s easy to look back after a week where they just played monumentally better and we did not play well. It’s easy to say you should have changed things.’
“We just should have played better for him.”
Fowler echoed close friend Thomas’ thoughts and said he had no complaints about Johnson’s leadership on the week in question.
“All it comes down to is we didn’t play as well as the Euros did,” Fowler said. “Zach is loved by everyone. He was great. I wish I would have been healthier that week and wish I would have been playing better and feeling better about my game.”
Schauffele, who was unwittingly part of the storm created by both playing partner Patrick Cantlay’s reported refusal to wear a Ryder Cup emblemed hat and by his own father’s criticism of the compensation, or lack thereof, that players receive was also in agreement.
“We all just wish we would have done better so Zach wouldn’t have to think this way,” he said. “When we lose, the captain gets all the heat. When we win, the players get all the credit.
“We wouldn’t be having this conversation if I played better or any of the guys you talked to today played better.”
Though each would win their respective singles matches against Sepp Straka and Nicolai Højgaard, Thomas and Schauffele would both have losing records whilst Fowler, who reportedly was suffering from illness on the week in question, was 0-2.
Johnson had addressed the shortcomings ahead of last week’s PGA Tour Fall series-ending RSM Classic in Georgia, and despite the subsequent defence from the trio, the former Masters and Open champion was willing to admit to mistakes.
“I’ve got a lot of 20/20 hindsight things that I certainly think about,” he said. “Arguably, some regrets.”
“The common denominator that I go back to that I wish I could have changed, or not changed, I wish it would have dawned on me earlier is just the pure commodity of time and understanding that it’s precious,” Johnson said.
“If I could have put more value into time management, I could have put my guys in a better position to play golf at a better rate early on,” he added.
Fowler admits that the Ryder Cup schedule makes it difficult for individual players to all prepare exactly the way they would normally do, but acknowledged that both sides had the same opportunities on tournament week and reiterated his opinion that the Europeans just outplayed their opponents.
“It’s tough,” Fowler said. “The schedule of the week is basically dictated and every guy prepares for a tournament differently and with that schedule that’s dictated, guys aren’t able to have their normal routine or prep.
“But, hey, no excuses. The European team and U.S. team were basically on the same schedule the week of. We weren’t as sharp and didn’t play as well.”
Thomas was one of the few Americans who teed it up competitively between the FedEx Cup finale at the Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup, though the two-time PGA Championship winner hadn’t qualified for the three-event Playoff Series and would’ve been facing a two-month competitive layoff had he not competed in the Fortinet Championship in Napa, California a fortnight after the Tour Championship.
“Everybody’s different,” Thomas said. “That time of year thinking of adding more golf is not anywhere close to the front of your mind. It’s tough because everybody was mentally fresh, physically fresh, ready to go but it’s just like … you sometimes lose maybe a little bit of competitive (edge).
“If we would have gone out there and destroyed them, nobody would have been talking about it. It’s always easy to go back in hindsight and say when it doesn’t go well.”