News & Opinion

Thomas-Fowler gives U.S. spark for future

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Somewhere, maybe in his native Denmark, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn has flipped off his television set from watching the Presidents Cup and seen his next nightmare: the pairing of Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler next September at Le Golf National near Paris.

On Thursday, batting leadoff, the American duo destroyed Hideki Matsuyama and Charl Schwartzel, 6 and 4. On Friday, Fowler-Thomas took down the most successful pair in the history of the competition, the previously unbeaten team of South Africans Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen, 3 and 2 (scores and pairings: http://bit.ly/2xzUKfk).

Thomas and Fowler did not trail in either match.

"I think I did OK on the partner," Fowler said. "We're working well together. I made a couple good birdies early, and I rode my horse on the way in."

"Wouldn't want to do it with anyone else other than my dude right here," Thomas said.

He'll get his wish as Fowler-Thomas will team up in a rematch with Grace-Oosthuizen in today’s morning foursomes.

And nothing should change a year from now. U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk is an assistant captain this week at Liberty National, and he can start filling out his dance card. The duet of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed continues to make beautiful music. Workout buddies Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson have the makings of being a tandem after whipping Adam Scott and Jhonattan Vegas, 3 and 2. But it is Fowler and Thomas who are a lock for Paris.

In Friday’s four-ball session, Fowler kick-started the Americans with a 16-foot birdie putt at the third hole before Thomas rolled in a birdie at the fifth for a quick 2-up lead. Grace's eagle at the par-5 sixth trimmed the American lead in half, but it turned out to be the only hole that the International side would win. When Thomas canned a 7-foot birdie at 8, he egged the crowd on, encouraging them to make some noise by raising his arms like a cheerleader. 

It looked like the International side could sneak back into the match at the 325-yard 12th hole after Thomas double-crossed his tee shot to the left into the primary rough.

"I definitely would've bet against me getting it up and down," he said.

But with Grace inside 7 feet for birdie, Thomas used a pitching wedge and rode the slope to within 14 feet of the hole. Fowler came over for the read, and Thomas drilled it.

"That was a huge, huge part in the match, I feel like, us making that birdie there and halving the hole," Thomas said.

For his next trick, Thomas detonated cheers in his gallery, holing a 29-foot greenside bunker shot for birdie at the par-4 14th and another unlikely halve of the hole for the U.S. side. Thomas exploded in delight, and he wasn't done yet. One hole later, he stuck his approach to 7 feet and gave the U.S. side a commanding 3-up advantage. By the time Oosthuizen lipped out a putt at 16, it was over.

"We ran into a brick wall today with those two," Grace said. "Every time we tried to show them something, they threw something better back at us." 

So, what is the magic between the Baker Bay Boys, who have bonded over their annual spring break trips to the Bahamas? 

“We’re both very comfortable around each other," Fowler said. "We know our limits, in a way. I can push and say stuff to him that I know may not be the best of things to other people. But we kind of help motivate each other out there. And I know his game very well; he knows my game very well."

Rest assured that Furyk has taken notice. Asked about what he hoped to gain from serving under Steve Stricker this week, Furyk said he would be observing how pairings mesh, among other things.

"It's very useful," he said of being an assistant captain this week. "I don't want to use the word advantage, but it's nice to have some symmetry from year to year."

Mark it down: Fowler and Thomas will be going off together on Friday's opening day of the Ryder Cup next fall. Be afraid, Thomas Bjorn. Be very afraid.

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak