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the leader

U.S. Open 2023: Rickie Fowler is feeling like he belongs again after record-setting start at LACC

June 17, 2023
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Rickie Fowler reacts to his putt on the seventh green during the second round of the 123rd U.S. Open.

Ezra Shaw

LOS ANGELES — U.S. Opens are supposed to be about pars, or at least they were for most of the 75 years since Los Angeles last hosted the event. And the press conferences competitors hold during the championship are meant to contain answers about keeping it in the fairway, taking medicine when drives find the rough, and leaving the ball under the hole.

Through two rounds at Los Angeles Country Club, though, it’s clear the 123rd edition is no ordinary U.S. Open.

Rickie Fowler made eight birdies, six bogeys and just four pars during his second-round 68. After taking the 36-hole lead at 10 under par, his press conference was just as colorful.

On Friday night in L.A., Fowler, who leads Wyndham Clark (67) by one, canvassed every topic from cancel culture to how his parents and grandparents are staying in an RV next to the motorhomes of Jordan Spieth and Jason Day.

Perhaps the strangest feeling for Fowler, though, was leading at a major. “It's been a while since I've felt this good in a tournament, let alone a major,” said Fowler, who hadn’t qualified for the championship since 2020.

Fowler was referring to his struggles, having not won on the PGA Tour since the 2019 WM Phoenix Open and having plummeted to 185th in the Official World Golf Ranking as recently as last fall.

In fact, it’s been a while since Fowler was playing regularly in major championships. He’s competed in just four of the last 10 majors, and that’s a bizarre development for a golfer who posted top-fives in all four championships in 2014.

But the Californian has clawed his way back to the world’s top 50, currently standing at No. 45.

“Everyone deals with struggles; no one's perfect,” Fowler said. “I think you'd be lying if you haven't been through a tough time, especially if you play golf.”

Fowler’s struggles were amplified by his popularity with fans and TV cameras. He said that had nothing to do with his slump, nor did he never feel any additional pressure to regain form or hide his emotions.

“There are plenty of times where you know the cameras are around and people are watching, especially with today's day and age with cancel culture,” he said. “It's just being aware, but still being true to yourself and not trying to be different or fake.”

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Rickie Fowler reacts to his chip shot during the second round of the 123rd U.S. Open.

Ezra Shaw

What hasn’t been a struggle is the way Fowler has made birdies at LACC with ease over the first two days. His 36-hole score of 130 ties Martin Kaymer in 2014 for the lowest in U.S. Open history and his 18 birdies are the most ever seen through two rounds.

He’s made it look easy.

“Thank you. I think,” Fowler said. “It's not that easy out there. Until you've been out there hitting shots, it's still a very hard test. Is it the hardest U.S. Open? No. I think it's a good, fair, hard test. The fairways look very wide because the mowed areas are wide, but [the target] is very small. The greens, you can't see how much slope there is. Visually, watching on TV probably doesn't do it justice.”

Not that Fowler watched golf on TV Friday. Typically, players with an afternoon tee time at a U.S. Open will watch the morning coverage to glean information. “I didn't watch any this morning,” he said. “This morning, I just hung out with my wife. My parents are staying in an RV with my grandparents next to Jordan and J-Day [Jason Day], so we went over there and hung out.”

Fowler, now 34, married and a father, knows not to overconsume golf, especially at majors. The past four years have taught him that.

“I wouldn't say I necessarily enjoyed [the slump], but I learned about myself, my swing, my game,” he said. “I wouldn't be in this position had I not gone through the last few years.”

Fowler acknowledged the difficult task ahead. Converting a 36-hole lead is rare with players such as Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele (eight under) Dustin Johnson (six under), Scottie Scheffler (five under) and Cameron Smith (four under) within six shots.

“I'm looking forward to continuing to challenge myself and go out there and try and execute the best I can,” said Fowler, who has 12 top-10s at the majors. “Being in the lead is nice, but it really means nothing right now.”

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