NAPA, Calif. — Justin Thomas looked at his arm and noticed he had goosebumps.
That was his reaction Friday to being told during a live interview with Golf Channel’s Kira Dixon that among U.S. Ryder Cup members, Rory McIlroy had said, “there are other guys on that team I’d rather face than JT.”
McIlroy, who will make his seventh appearance representing Europe in the biennial match later this month in Rome, made the comment on Golf.com’s Subpar Podcast, but Thomas said it was the first he had heard of it.
“I didn’t, that’s actually giving me goose bumps,” Thomas told Dixon. “That’s very cool for him to say. I take that as a compliment.”
During the podcast, McIlroy praised Thomas, who beat him in a singles match in 2018 in Paris, although it failed to spark a U.S. comeback.
“I felt the conversation around [Thomas being selected as a captain’s pick] was completely unjustified,” McIlroy said in a conversation with podcast hosts Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz. “Because, in my opinion, being a European and knowing that I have to face some of these guys, honestly there are other guys on that team that I’d rather face than JT. So, to me it was a no-brainer. Even though he’s not had the best year and he’s struggled to perform, JT’s still one of the first guys that you put down on that tee sheet for the U.S.”
While Thomas’s performance this season created some doubt that he would be chosen to the team, he has been a force to be reckoned with on recent U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, tallying 17.5 points for the Americans across two Ryder Cups (6-2-1, including 2-0 in singles) and three Presidents Cups.
Knost noted Ian Poulter was chosen as a captain’s pick on multiple occasions more for his experience than his current form and nobody doubted the selection. McIlroy saw it differently.
“I think comparing JT to Ian Poulter does JT a little bit of a disservice in terms of their CVs and their careers and everything,” McIlroy said. “But to me, if you’re going to compare him to someone on the European team over the years, it’s probably Sergio, just in terms of that fire and that passion and obviously the resume that he has. … I totally expected [JT] to be on the team.”
“It’s a really, really strong U.S. team,” McIlroy added, “and if I were Zach, I’d be really happy with the guys that I’ve got.”
“I take that as a compliment,” Thomas told Dixon. “Rory’s a great dude. When we played singles in ’18 in France, that was a tremendous honor for me, not just for getting sent out first by Captain Furyk but playing against (Rory) and obviously coming out on top. He’s one of my best friends but at the same time we want to beat each other but we have a lot of respect for each other. It’s very nice for him to say.”