He called it “nice,” which was so perfectly in character.
Whether it’s wearing white capris with high-top golf shoes, posting Instagram videos of vacations with beautiful girlfriends, or ripping his way around Erin Hills with the best opening round in the U.S. Open in 37 years, Rickie Fowler oozes cool with every action and utterance.
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Fowler put together as near a perfect U.S. Open Thursday as possible – seven birdies, no bogeys, 12 out of 14 fairways, 15 out of 18 greens, and a 65 that looked like a stroll in the park. Juli Inkster, who is in the Hall of Fame and does not offer faint praise, called it, “maybe the best ballstriking round I’ve ever seen,” and Paul Azinger said, “It could be as good a round as Rickie has ever had.”
Fowler didn’t disagree. “It was just nice to go out and actually execute the gameplan and not have to think about ‘What if that one went in,’ ” he said.
When asked if the game seems simple on a day like this, Fowler said, “It did, just because I’ve been swinging really well. I feel like I have great control of the ball right now.”
Control is always at a premium in the U.S. Open, but Erin Hills, with its drivable par-4s and reachable par-5s, tempts you into danger, like trying to cut a little off the par-5 18th, or drive the par-4 second. If your ballstriking was on, especially as the wind died down in the afternoon, you could open with a red number, as 44 players did, including Paul Casey and Xander Schauffele, who posted late rounds of 6-under 66, or Brian Harman, Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka, all of whom opened with 67.
But if your swing was off, not by much, but enough to find the thigh-high fescue or the deep, craggy bunkers, a triple bogey or so was in your sight. Ask Jason Day, who had two triples and five bogeys en route to a 79, or Rory McIlroy, who had two double bogeys and four bogeys in a 78. Billy Horschel got his U.S. Open off to a depressing start with a quadruple-bogey 9 on the first hole. He rallied to shoot 79.
The good numbers that were out there might hang around for another day. But finding them will require Fowler-like precision, something that caused the 28-year-old to give a wry smile. “It’s always cool to be part of some sort of history in golf,” Fowler said when told that he matched a first-round U.S. Open scoring record in relation to par set by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf in 1980 at Baltusrol, eight years before Fowler was born.
For those who don’t remember, Nicklaus won that Open, his 16th professional major victory. Fowler hasn’t won one yet, a fact that will be front and center throughout the rest of this week.