Sean M Haffey
Golf observers talk about Scottie Scheffler being unflappable, but Rickie Fowler can take chill to the next level, too. His reputation for being colourful is based more on his clothes and well-scripted commercials. On the golf course, behind his shades, Fowler rarely produces any expression.
Sans le glasses, it was that way again in his post-round press conference on Sunday at the 123rd US Open. Fowler had every reason to feel gutted at Los Angeles Country Club. In bidding to win his first major, he shared the 54-hole lead with Wyndham Clark, but had the best (or worst?) view of the younger man and fellow Oklahoma State golfer — who copied Rickie’s putter! — lifting the trophy.
To put it bluntly, Clark, 29, smoked him, the champion shooting a steady even-par 70 to Fowler’s messy 75 that ultimately dropped the five-time PGA Tour winner into a tie for fifth at five under.
Fowler, 34, did crack, however, and the slightest of wetness in his eyes and waver in his voice came when he was asked what he said to Clark as they embraced on the 18th green.
“Just said: ‘Your mom was with you. She’d be very proud,’” offered Fowler, who was sensitive to the Clark’s mother’s death from breast cancer in 2013.
Other than runner-up Rory McIlroy, Fowler, a native of Southern California, was the most popular player among the LACC crowd — fans torn between McIlroy’s quest to end a nine-year dry spell and Fowler’s long road back from the depths of a terrible slump.
But it was clear early on that Fowler might not have the fire-power to match the gallery’s will for him. He bogeyed the second, fifth and seventh before bouncing back with a birdie at the benign par-5 eighth. Fowler then bogeyed the 11th and 12th to drop five back, and his bid was all but over.
His ball-striking, normally a strength, was poor, with Fowler hitting only half the greens despite being well-positioned on many holes. It was such a contrast to the first three rounds, with Fowler making 21 birdies. He had only two on Sunday, though his 23 birdies for the week did set a US Open record.
“I just didn’t have it today. Iron play was very below average and didn’t make anything,” Fowler said. “That’s a big thing in majors, especially on a Sunday — making putts and kind of keeping it fairly stress-free. It was kind of the opposite. I was kind of fighting through it all day.”
When Fowler made his way to the scoring tent after the round, he was greeted by his wife Allison and their 18-month-old daughter Maya. On Father’s Day, seeing his little girl took some of the sting of the defeat away.
“I was excited she stayed up. We pushed her past her bedtime,” Fowler said with a grin. “But to have her there, and then we’ll travel to the Travelers [tournament] tomorrow morning … it just kind of makes you realise and understand golf is special and it’s what I love to do, but it’s definitely not everything.”
With that, Fowler walked into the fading sunlight and did what so many players carrying his disappointment would not do. He made his way to sign autographs for a horde of kids who were chanting: “Rickie! Rickie!” Like Maya, they didn’t seem to care either if he won or lost.