In the midst of Justin Thomas’ worst-ever slump, Rickie Fowler offered words of encouragement
Last year, Justin Thomas won his second career major at the PGA Championship. This year, he’s missed the cut in three of the year’s four majors, and finished T65 in the one in which he did make the weekend. His world ranking has dropped to 20th, and he’s in jeopardy of missing both the FedEx Cup playoffs and a berth on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
To cap it off, on Thursday at Royal Liverpool, Thomas fired a career-worst score of 82. To say he’s demoralized by his recent form is putting it lightly.
“I’ll hit shots like a No. 1 player in the world, and then I’ll make a 9 on my last hole of the tournament,” Thomas said after improving with an even-par round on Friday. “I don’t know if it’s a focus thing or I’m just putting too much pressure on myself or what it is, but when I figure it out, I’ll be better for it.”
One player who knows exactly how Thomas feels is his close friend Rickie Fowler, who’s in the midst of his own resurgence after a lengthy down period.
Fowler won for the first time in more than four years at the Rocket Mortgage Classic earlier this month and also made a run at the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club. His third-round 67 at Royal Liverpool Saturday launched him back into the mix heading into Sunday’s final round. Is he back? He’s wary of saying so.
“You never know with this game,” Fowler said on Saturday. “You definitely appreciate the times when you’re playing well and in somewhat control. You just never know how long they’re going to last. I’m definitely enjoying where things are and where they’re heading. They’re going to continue to get better. But yeah, that’s just part of the game and part of life. There’s going to be ups and downs, and you hope the low times don’t last very long. Unfortunately, we went through a few years, but we’re through that now.”
Last year, Fowler hit rock bottom in terms of his career: a plummet to 185th in the world ranking. After reconnecting with his old swing coach, Butch Harmon, Fowler began the climb back. He’s now ranked 22nd.
Given the challenges Fowler has faced in recent years, he’s one of the few players who can truly relate to what Thomas is currently experiencing — and he’s bullish on Thomas’ chances of overcoming his struggles.
“Everyone goes through it at some point,” Fowler said. “I don’t expect to see him going through it for very long at all. I have a lot of belief in him and his game. I know he’s planning to play the next two weeks, and I would expect to see him play quite well these next two weeks. He’s someone that’s obviously very tough on himself, works very hard. He’s got plenty of people around him that are always there to help out, guys to lean on, myself, Jordan [Spieth], and plenty of others. Like I said, at the same time, I’m not too worried about him.”
Thomas will tee it up at next week’s 3M Open in Minnesota and then the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C. the following week in an attempt to secure a berth in the FedEx Cup playoffs, in which only the top 70 players qualify (Thomas is currently 75th). He also needs to strengthen his bid for a spot on the Ryder Cup team if he fails to automatically qualify (currently 13th in the points ranking).
Regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, Fowler is convinced Thomas would be an asset to the team.
“He’s someone that he — I wouldn’t say turns into a different person, but he kind of does in a team event. He loves that atmosphere,” Fowler said. “When we’ve played together as partners, I kind of let him be in control as far as giving putts and stuff like that. I’m kind of the silent guy off to the side. He’s a bit more of the bulldog and wants to go right into the middle of the fight. He loves the setting, the kind of atmosphere and everything. Would love to see him turn some things around to have a chance to be there.
“Hopefully he can get a couple days of good work in, and yeah, I would expect to see him jump right back on the horse.”