PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — While Zach Johnson is expressing some “regrets” and lamenting he didn’t put the United States “in the best position for success” as he reflects on the Americans’ performance at the Ryder Cup two months ago, his players are supporting their embattled captain.
Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele spoke to The Palm Beach Post last Friday about the disappointing week at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome. Europe dominated the U.S., winning 16.5-11.5.
The three players were attending the opening of Panther National, a course co-designed by Thomas and Jack Nicklaus.
“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 said he had no complaints about how Johnson handled the team.
“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.”
“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.”
All three had losing records. Thomas, 1-2-1, and Schauffele, 1-3, each won their singles match. Fowler was 0-2.
Last week at the RSM Classic, Johnson spoke to the media about the Ryder Cup for the first time since returning from Rome.
“I’ve got a lot of 20/20 hindsight things that I certainly think about,” he said. “Arguably, some regrets.”
Zach Johnson points to time management at Ryder Cup
Specifically, Johnson cited time management.
“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.
This, he said, was not about the team taking a trip three weeks prior of the Ryder Cup to play a practice around at Marco Simone. He called that “spectacular.”
Rather, it was more about managing their time during the week.
“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 said.
Thomas, Fowler and Schauffele are not sure what more could have been done. But they also said the European team was on the same schedule and players should not use that as an excuse.
“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.”
Said Thomas: “We’re getting pulled a lot of different directions that week. It’s just wild … it’s about as far from a normal week we have. It’s not your normal preparation, it’s not your normal sleep, it’s a lot of obligations, it’s a lot of little things here and there going on. It’s something everybody has to adjust to.”
While the U.S. was well rested, some are wondering whether they were too well rested. Of the 12 players, nine had not competed in more than a month, or since the final day of the Tour Championship. Only Thomas, Max Homa and Brooks Koepka played in the five weeks between the end of the Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup.
Meanwhile, the entire European team entered the BMW PGA Championship in England two weeks before the Ryder Cup.
Johnson, though, said he does not know whether it’s the captain’s role to tell the players they have to play.
“I don’t know if that’s the proper way to approach it,” he said.
Justin Thomas played two weeks prior to Ryder Cup
Thomas, who did not qualify for the Tour Championship, played two weeks prior to the Ryder Cup at the Fortinet Championship in Napa Valley.
“Everybody’s different,” he 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.”
Said Fowler: “You go back two years (a 10-point U.S. victory at Whistling Straits) and everyone praises the U.S. for how they played, and beating Europe. Then you flip it. You lose, they pick it apart and say you did all these things wrong. You win, you did everything right.”
Still, Johnson believes he could have done more.
“You never know, anybody can beat anybody at any given time,” Johnson said. “The fact of the matter is what we’ve kind of said here, I don’t think I put my guys in the best position for success.”