Rickie Fowler returns to his roots to shoot 62 in U.S. Open

Rickie Fowler of the USA walks from the seventh tee through the first spherical of the 123rd U.S. Open Championship on the Los Angeles Nation Membership on June 15, 2023. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Photographs)

Ties major championship record after emergence from lengthy slump

LOS ANGELES – His gray pullover matched the marine layer that hung over Los Angeles Country Club on Thursday, but a pair of prescription sunglasses helped him see through the gloomy skies.

That was proof enough that this is a different Rickie Fowler, now a father instead of a kid. Years earlier, his clothing sponsor would have used the grand stage of a major championship to assign him a statement-making wardrobe replete with bright colors and bold patterns.

Not now. Fowler’s gray-and-white clothing blended in instead of standing out. Perhaps it was a sign of his age. His Tuesday practice round definitely was. Fowler, 34, played with a college kid who dressed up as him years ago. Michael Brennan was around 9 years old when he donned the all-orange outfit, white belt and flat-brim hat that were once Fowler’s trademark.

This is not your son’s Rickie Fowler, though. He’s now a man steeled by several tough seasons, and on Thursday he had his best round since emerging from the depths.

It also was the lowest score in U.S. Open history, breaking the record first set 50 years ago by Johnny Miller, who was on-site this week to receive the USGA’s Bob Jones Award and mark the anniversary of this championship’s most famous round. Fowler’s 62 also tied the major-championship record for low score, matching Branden Grace’s accomplishment at the 2017 Open Championship.

“I knew there was birdies to be made out here, but you have to drive it well and get the ball in position first,” Fowler said. “Did that, and from there just managed our way around really well.”

Fowler missed just three fairways and three greens Thursday and gained nearly five strokes on the greens. He didn’t hole a putt longer than 20 feet but also didn’t miss anything shorter than 15 feet. He holed all three of his attempts from 10-15 feet and also made five knee-knockers from the crucial range of 4-8 feet.

His 62 was matched minutes later by Xander Schauffele. It was the lowest-scoring first round in U.S. Open history, but the leaders are still two shots ahead of their closest competitors and five shots ahead of the players rounding out the top 10. Fowler beat his playing partners, a pair of major champions who have each won on the PGA TOUR in 2023, by double-digits. Justin Rose shot 76 in Fowler’s group, while Day shot 73.

“It was fun to watch,” said Rose. “Obviously that was the highlight of my day.”

Fowler is in the midst of his best season in years but he did not anticipate this round, not after some mediocre practice rounds and a similarly uninspiring warm-up Thursday morning. Fowler birdied his first hole, Los Angeles Country Club’s 10th, but immediately bogeyed the next. He birdied the third hole, then made three more birdies and another bogey to shoot 32 on the harder back nine.

He birdied his first three holes after making the turn, putting him at 6 under par and giving him just two pars over his first 12 holes. Another birdie at the short sixth put him at 7 under par before he capitalized on a good break on the par-5 eighth hole to reach 8 under.

Fowler was surprised when his tee shot on No. 8 sailed toward a barranca that runs down the right side of the hole before crossing the fairway, forcing players to hit take some distance off their tee shots on the par-5. But he was relieved to see where the ball had come to rest.

A little bit of luck is necessary when a player’s ball travels into the unkempt areas off of Los Angeles Country Club’s short grass. This rustic layout gives a picture of what this land looked like before it was surrounded by asphalt. The sandy barrancas are filled with sand, stones and native plants. Fowler’s ball not only avoided the tall grass but it was in line with a small opening between a stand of trees and the bridge players use to cross the wash.

Xander Schauffele of the USA performs a shot from a bunker on the sixth gap through the first spherical of the 123rd U.S. Open Championship on the Los Angeles Nation Membership on June 15, 2023. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Photographs)

He was able to hit a pitching wedge back to the fairway, setting up the 104-yard wedge shot that he hit to 13 feet for his 10th and final birdie of the day. Fowler said he played his second shot quickly, giving his instincts the right of way instead of allowing his more rational side to dominate his decision-making.

“Really just tried to hit it fairly quickly, just react to it, don’t really think about it a whole lot,” he said. “It was just a pitching wedge that I was trying to catch clean and kind of fade it up against the wind. Sometimes in those situations, just step in, just react to it, hit it and not think about it too much.”

That is when Fowler is at his best. He is a right-brained player, one who plays his best when a course demands creativity. He likes to shape shots and change his trajectory. That’s one reason last year’s return to instructor Butch Harmon has helped Fowler get back on track. Harmon is proudly, almost defiantly, old-school in today’s data-driven age. He’s more concerned with building a player’s confidence than his launch characteristics.

“Just go play golf and keep it simple,” Fowler said. The results have followed. He has returned to the top 50 in the world ranking after sitting outside the top 150 as recently as last fall. As a U.S. Open alternate last year, he waited around throughout the first round before ending the day as the odd man out. His six top-10s this season are his most since 2019, the season he recorded his most recent win.

“You go through the ebbs and flows of your career,” said world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, “and as long as you keep working hard and keep the faith in yourself, which Rickie has, he’s climbed his way all the way back, and he’s been playing some really solid golf this year.”

Los Angeles Country Club would seem to be suited to Fowler’s style. It is reminiscent of the venue where Fowler posted his best U.S. Open finish, a runner-up in 2014. That tournament was played at Pinehurst No. 2, another historic course that Gil Hanse returned to its roots. Both courses have a naturalistic ethos shown in the shades of brown more commonly associated with an Open Championship.

Fowler’s second-place finish at Pinehurst came in a season when he finished in the top-five in every major championship. He won THE PLAYERS the following season and once ranked as high as fourth in the world. Fowler said Thursday that he feels closer to that form than ever.

“It’s definitely been long and tough,” he said. “A lot longer being in that situation than you’d ever want to. But it makes it so worth it having gone through that and being back where we are now.

*Credit Information www.pgatour.com & Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin

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