On Thursday, no golf fan followed Rickie Fowler, who wore the same outfit as him. In 2010, then-22-year-old Fowler rode his relaxed dirt bike roots and head-to-toe orange outfits and flat-brimmed hats into a boy band vibe that made him hugely popular.
Fowler, now 34, husband and father, was still dapper in the first round of the US Open at the Los Angeles Country Club on Thursday, with a white hat, pants and white trim to match his shoes. He wore a soft blue-grey pullover with a hood, and was barely flashy.
The number of spectators was also rather modest. On the ninth hole of the round that started on the 10th hole, Fowler scored a birdie putt to tie the tournament at 3-under, earning a warm round of applause from the sold-out crowd. Fans called out, “Go for it, Ricky.” But the reaction was hardly the same as the noisy pseudo-delirium once provoked by the long-haired young Fowler.
Finally, as he marched into the final nine holes, the volume began to gradually increase. With five birdies and four pars on the remaining nine holes, Fowler posted an 8-under 62. The round was the worst in U.S. Open history. Soon after, Xander Schauffele came to match it.
Fowler’s quiet smile remained the same as he hugged friends and colleagues afterwards. They watched his many recent struggles on the golf course (he once called them “dark days”) and were impressed that his look hadn’t changed at all.
“He was always the same guy,” said Justin Rose, who scored a disappointing 76 with Fowler on Thursday. “It was fun to see Ricky today. It was the highlight of my day. Good for him.”
Thursday’s result came as something of a surprise to Fowler, but not a shock. For months he has been prophesying some resurrection. Fowler, who was once ranked No. 4 in the world, plummeted to No. 173 last year. In 2014, he finished in the top five in all four majors. By 2022 he was only in the PGA Championship, finishing tied for 23rd.
People wondered if he would defect to the LIV golf circuit for one last big paycheck while his name still had meaning. But Fowler stayed with fellow PGA Tour mates Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, who once spent vacations at the beach together, and he persevered. He was often seen alone in the late afternoons and evenings during tournaments practicing on the practice range and practicing putting.
After some encouraging results last month, Fowler climbed back into the top 50 rankings and qualified for last month’s PGA Championship. Fowler spoke as if he had turned the corner.
“Coming back to this stage is never fun,” he said. “But in many ways, I’ve actually enjoyed it. I’ve learned things about myself. I haven’t lost my faith, but I’ve come to accept my predicament more or less.”
For that reason, Fowler could have been forgiven for walking the grounds of the LA Country Club on Thursday with a big smile on his face. Interestingly, though, Fowler was mostly stoic, with an occasional faint smile. When he sunk a 3-foot putt on the final hole, the uphill par-3 9th, to score par, he barely lifted his right hand to respond to thunderous cheers from the nearby stands.
In subsequent interviews, Fowler maintained a relaxed tone. He claimed he was really uncomfortable with the LA country club layout for most of the practice rounds.
“And then yesterday, finally, some things worked out and it gave me confidence,” he said, admitting that birdies on three of his first five holes weren’t bad (including one bogey). was).
Starting the round just after 8am Pacific time, Fowler arrived at the halfway point of the round before 10:30am before the late-arriving fans had yet filled the grandstands or lined up on the fairways. But when Fowler birdied the first, second and third holes (played on the 10th, 11th and 12th holes), a large crowd spotted him on the golf course. They were treated to a show.
On the driveable par-4 sixth, he hit a long iron to 51 yards, spun a wedge shot within eight feet and sunk the putt for a birdie. At the par-5 eighth hole, his drive found a devilish barranca on the right of the fairway, but he bravely tipped it back onto the fairway. “I tried not to think too much or take too long to recover,” he said. A pitch to Green made a 13-foot birdie putt from left to right, which Fowler calmly sank.
Even though Fowler had to sink his final putt, Fowler made it look easy, even though the par at the end of the hole threatened to put his lowest U.S. Open record score in jeopardy.
“This week is off to a good start,” he casually said a few minutes later. As if that’s what his performance is all about.
Later he would reveal otherwise. Asked to characterize his journey from world No. 173 to the record-setting round of a national championship, Fowler said: “It’s definitely been long and hard. You’ve been in that situation for a lot longer than you’d like. But I think it’s worth it to get over it and come back to where we are now.”