Ryder Cup: Spieth plus Thomas minus Reed - Stricker's formula for glory?

Ryder Cup Jordan Spieth Justin Thomas

No two Americans have teamed up more at the Ryder Cup than Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. Together, they have compiled a 4-1-1 mark, a record that swells to 8-1-3 if you include their Presidents Cup partnerships.

BBut Reed is not a member of this year’s American squad for the first time since 2012, his second year as a professional.

Thankfully for the US and captain Steve Stricker, Spieth, making his fourth appearance in the event, and Justin Thomas, playing his second Ryder Cup, are.

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to play with Jordan because he’s obviously a great buddy of mine and we get along so well,” Thomas said Tuesday at Whistling Straits.

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Now comes their opportunity to be America’s answer to “Moliwood,” the name given in 2018 to Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, who combined to go undefeated while leading the Europeans to a blowout victory in Paris.

With the US having lost seven of the last nine, including four of the last five, Ryder Cups, Stricker would be wise – if not expected – to pair Spieth and Thomas for every session that he can. Aside from their personalities meshing – a key ingredient to Paul Azinger’s pod system at the 2008 matches that were won by the US, at Valhalla – their games are also well-suited, particularly for foursomes play, a format the Americans have notoriously struggled with over the years.

In short, Thomas is long and accurate off the tee, Spieth not so much. Spieth is an assassin with the putter, Thomas inconsistent. Both are fantastic iron players. Thomas’ game has also rounded into form in recent weeks, while Spieth has been resurgent much of the year.

And the blueprint for their success of course already exists.

It was three years ago in Paris when Spieth and Reed were famously split up, despite their past success playing together. But Spieth and Thomas, friends since childhood, were eager to pair up in what was their first Ryder Cup together. 

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They delivered the goods, too, going 3-1 for the week with their only loss coming at the hands of Molinari and Fleetwood. Reed, meanwhile, was privately sullen and seething and went 0-2 alongside Tiger Woods before scoring his lone point of the week in singles on the back end of a European blowout.

When Spieth and Reed were asked that evening in the post-round press conference if they were surprised they didn’t play together that week, Reed looked down the dais at Spieth and, as he would later say, was ready to “light the room up.” Instead, then-captain Jim Furyk did what any good leader would do and jumped on the grenade in front of the room full of reporters. (Another one went off anyway in Reed’s aforementioned interview that appeared in the New York Times).

But as is often the case, there is a lesson in losing. US captains – current and future company included – came away knowing that they could sharpie the names of Thomas and Spieth together for the foreseeable future. That includes this week.

On Tuesday, Thomas led off the player press conferences. He was followed immediately by Spieth. The rest of the lineup rolled out in what seemed like obvious pairings, too (Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler, for example).

“I think you'll start to see some pairings that guys find a lot of success in and continue for a number of years given the average age and the calibre of players that are on this team,” Spieth said of a US team that averages just 29 years of age, making it its youngest team at a Ryder Cup.

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Spieth didn’t specifically mention the duo of himself and Thomas. But he didn’t have to.

“I'm receptive for whatever is best for the team,” Thomas said of the prospect. “If it means that Jordan and I play every match together, if it means that we split up, everybody is on board with what is best for the team.”

What would that be? Leaning on Spieth and Thomas to turn the corner on a mostly dismal two decades of Ryder Cup impotence would be a good place to start.

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