Justin Thomas has been to the Ryder Cup three times, but this is the first time he’ll actually be teeing it up in the prestigious U.S. versus Europe matchup.
“I was very fortunate as a kid because my father worked for the PGA so I was able to go two times in the States and once in Wales,” Thomas said. “I’ve also watched it on TV, so I understand the importance, but I’m excited to be on the other side of the ropes this time and to be able to play with a great group of guys.”
As the number-four ranked golfer in the world, Thomas automatically qualified for the team and will join 11 other American luminaries in the game today: Bryson Dechambeau, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Tiger Woods.
The biannual tournament will be held Sept. 28 to 30 at the Albatros Course of Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, a suburb of Paris.
Team USA holds a commanding lead in the overall results for the tournament, with 25 wins versus 12 for the Europeans (and two ties). And it is hoping to retain the cup that it won at Hazeltine in Minnesota in 2016.
Thomas said above and beyond the tournament itself, he’s perhaps most honored to be able to represent the U.S. on a world stage. “I had the opportunity a few times in my career as a junior, but whenever you can represent your country, it’s the greatest thing you can achieve. It really doesn’t get any higher than this,” he said.
Thomas was also chosen to play in the Presidents Cup last year, where the U.S. squares off against an international team from the rest of the world, except Europe. The U.S. also took home the win there.
But despite the prestige of that tournament, the Ryder Cup is perhaps more special. “We’re going to be playing a strong team, probably the deepest team they’ve ever had,” he said. The Europeans will field Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Alex Norén, Thorbjorn Olesen, Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson.
And because the tournament will be held on European soil, Thomas knows the U.S. squad won’t be favorites. “There will be a lot of people there and it’ll be very loud,” he said, “and we’re the underdogs as far as the fans are concerned.”
But he’s nonetheless expecting an exciting matchup, one that he and his teammates take very seriously.
And while he’s hopeful that the Americans will prevail, he knows it’s not a slam dunk. “All Ryder Cups are such toss-ups,” he said. “It’s the top 12 from both the U.S. and Europe. There are no bottom feeders there. Everyone is really good and the Europeans are executing on a course they know well. So there’s a potential for a great matchup.”
Thomas said although he played the course once during the French Open, he’s no expert on it. Instead, he’ll rely on the skills of his team, which are many.
“I’m really happy to be on the team with these guys who are so comfortable in the spotlight,” Thomas said. “They know how to play when the big opportunities come around.”
And he also doesn’t have to go up against some of the red-hot players such as Koepka who just snagged the PGA Championship title. “I’m happy to be on the team with him rather than playing against him,” Thomas said.
Another thing the team can count on is that it’ll be well dressed. Thomas, who has been sponsored by Polo Ralph Lauren since he turned pro in 2013, will be sharing his favorite designer with his squad this time.
Ralph Lauren has been the official outfitter of the U.S. team since 2014 and will dress the caddies and spouses as well as the players. For the golfers, that includes the uniforms and outerwear they’ll wear on the course as well as the tailored clothing they’ll sport on arrival, during the opening ceremony and welcome dinner.
The outfits feature stripes and colorblocking, accented with patriotic logos and graphics grounded in an American color palette of red, white and blue and constructed from tech fabrics. “United We Stand” is printed on the interior waistband of all on-course pants, and a mapcamo print appears on selected outerwear, inspired by the Albatros Course. There are merino crewneck sweaters and half-zip pullovers, full-zip vests, quilted woven jackets and packable down jackets. The collection is also available to the public at the Ralph Lauren web site as well as select golf clubs and retail stores.
Thomas is especially fond of the outerwear pieces, particularly the one sporting a camo print of the course. “That really stuck out for me,” he said.
His girlfriend Jill Wisniewski, who will join him at the tournament, is also “very excited to get her care package,” he said. “She and the other girlfriends feel very fortunate to be taken care of.”
Thomas, who said he was wearing Polo before he inked the sponsorship deal, said he’s gained a newfound respect for the brand after watching the design process for the Ryder Cup uniforms.
“I was really impressed by their creativity and how they can come up with different outfits with a red, white and blue theme every two years,” he said.
What’s also impressive is Thomas’ résumé. The 25-year-old Kentucky native has won nine PGA Tour titles, has 12 other top 10s and was the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year in 2017.
But Thomas is still not satisfied. “I don’t think about rankings when I’m on the course, but when I’m off the course, I’m pretty determined to be the best I can,” he said. “I’m upset that there are three people ahead of me. I was number one for a couple of weeks and I’m going to keep fighting to get back there — and hold it longer this time.”
He could turn to one of his mentors for advice during the Ryder Cup: “There are a lot of guys I look up to, but Tiger was my idol growing up,” he said. “When I was seven to 12, the way he dominated everything was so impressive, and fun to watch. Now we’re on tour together and have become friends. It’s awesome to be able to ask his advice, but when we tee it up, we’re not really friends. We’re trying to beat each other.”
That’s just the way it is with driven professionals.
Thomas admits that he doesn’t really have any hobbies and during the off-season he watches a lot of TV, goes boating with friends, on vacation to the islands or home to Kentucky to catch a football game.
But his focus is to continue to work diligently on his game in hopes of regaining that top ranking. And his recent success also brings with it a whole other set of challenges as sponsors and media clamor for more of his time.
“It sure beats the alternative when nobody wanted to talk to me,” he said. “I’ve gotten better at managing my time during tournament weeks. And I know that what really matters is the effort my team and I put in. There are always people who will be negative but I try to stay positive and the rest will take care of itself.”