No golf fans followed Rickie Fowler on Thursday, dressed as he was. In 2010, the 22-year-old Fowler gained popularity when he rode his loose dirt-biking roots and a boy band vibe, complete with a top-to-toe orange outfit and a flat-brimmed hat.
Fowler, now 34 and a husband and father, was still unflappable in Thursday’s first round of the US Open at the Los Angeles Country Club, but not too flashy in a soft blue-gray pullover with white trim to match his white hat, trousers and shoes.
The crowd was also a bit less. Nine holes into his round, which began at the 10th hole, the packed grandstand applauded politely when Fowler birdied a putt to tie the tournament lead at three under par. A fan called out, “Keep it up, Ricky.” But the long-haired younger Fowler’s reaction was rarely the intense semi-dizziness he once displayed.
Finally, as he marched toward his final nine holes, the volume began to increase. With five birdies and four pars in nine holes, Fowler shot an eight-under 62. This is the lowest round in US Open history. Not long after, Xander Schauffele would match it.
The quiet smile on Fowler’s face never changed as he hugged friends and colleagues afterward. They had seen many of his recent struggles on the golf course — “dark days,” he once called them — and admired that his face never changed.
“He’s always the same guy,” said Justin Rose, who played with Fowler on Thursday and shot a disappointing 76. “It was fun watching Ricky today. That was the highlight of my day. Good for him.”
Thursday’s result was a surprise to Fowler, but not a shock. He has been predicting some kind of revival for months. Fowler, the fourth-ranked golfer in the world, slipped to 173rd last year. In 2014, he finished in the top five at all four majors. By 2022, he had played in just one PGA Championship, and was tied for 23rd.
While his name still means something, people wondered if he’d switch to the LIV golf circuit in search of the ultimate big payday. But Fowler stayed with his PGA Tour buddies Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, with whom he once took a beach vacation, and persevered. He would be seen alone in the afternoon or evening during the matches, grinding on the range.
Last month, after several encouraging results, Fowler moved back into the top 50 in the rankings, which qualified him for last month’s PGA Championship. Fowler spoke as if he had turned a corner.
“To come back to this point, I mean, it’s never fun,” he said. “But in many ways, I really enjoyed it. I learned things about myself. It’s not that I lost hope, but I almost adapted to the grind.
To that end, Fowler would have been forgiven if he hadn’t walked around the L.A. Country Club grounds Thursday with a big grin on his face. But interestingly, Fowler was mostly stoic, occasionally flashing a faint smile. When he sank a three-foot par putt on his final hole — the uphill, par-3 ninth hole — he barely raised his right hand to acknowledge the cheers from the nearby grandstands.
When interviewed later, Fowler maintained his retirement status. He insisted that he was actually uncomfortable in the LA Country Club setting for most of his practice rounds.
“Then, yesterday, a couple of things finally clicked and it gave me confidence,” he said, admitting that it didn’t hurt that he birdied three of his first five holes (mixed with a bogey).
Fowler, who started his round just after 8 a.m. Pacific time, reached the halfway point of his round just before 10:30 a.m., when latecomers were unable to fill the grandstands or line the fairways. But when Fowler birdied the first, second and third holes (his 10th, 11th and 12th holes played), a large crowd saw Fowler on the golf course. A program was held for them.
On the drivable par-4 sixth hole, he hit a long iron 51 yards, then rolled a wedge shot to within eight feet and sank the putt for birdie. On the par-5 eighth hole, his drive found the devil Barranca to the right of the fairway, but he saved himself back on the fairway with a brave chip. “I tried not to overdo it and take too much time with that recovery,” he said. His pitch to the green left a birdie putt 13 feet left to right, and Fowler sunk in furiously.
With a closing hole par on a record-low US Open scoreboard, Fowler also made it look easy despite sinking a dicey final putt.
“It’s been a good start to the week,” he said moments later – as if his performance had marked him.
Later, he would reveal otherwise. Asked to characterize his journey from No. 173 in the world to a record-breaking round at the national championships, Fowler said: “It’s definitely been long and hard. Being in that situation for longer than you want to be. But going through that and getting back to where we are now makes it all worth it.” .