It certainly has been a cool couple of months for Rickie Fowler. The 29-year-old was the runner-up in the Masters, contended in the Memorial Tournament at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village and then last Friday on nearby Westhampton Beach, he got engaged to Allison Stokke, the former pole vaulter-turned fitness model.
The only thing missing is a major championship.
Perhaps that will come this week at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
Since longtime buddy Justin Thomas joined fellow pal Jordan Spieth last August in etching his name on one of golf’s indelible trophies, Fowler seems due to remove his name from the list of best players to have never won a major.
For Fowler, the U.S. Open has been a feast-or-famine major. In nine starts, he’s posted three top 10s, including a tie for second in 2014 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, but also four missed cuts.
In 2014, Fowler became the first player to post top-5 finishes in all four majors without a victory. And he’s currently one of three players (with Jon Rahm and Hideki Matsuyama) inside the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking without a major.
Phil Mickelson had to wait 46 major starts before he got his first. Sergio Garcia endured 69 majors before finally breaking the drought in his 70th, last year’s Masters. This week marks Fowler’s 34th start in a major.
Nobody doubts Fowler’s gifts as a player. The former Oklahoma State All-American enjoyed a decorated amateur career that included two victorious Walker Cup berths for the USA in 2007 and 2009. Since turning pro nine years ago, he has four PGA Tour victories, including the 2015 Players Championship.
With the 118th U.S. Open at one of his favorite venues, the always engaging Fowler feels confident about his chances to get that elusive major.
Fowler and Thomas flew to Long Island last Wednesday to prep for the year’s second major, with the latter taking the beach photos of Fowler’s engagement to Stokke that were posted on Instagram.
Speaking of love, Fowler first fell for Shinnecock five years ago during a golf trip to the area. Along with his caddie Joe Skovron, they played 13 rounds on some of America’s finest layouts in a seven-day stretch. The course list included Shinnecock (twice), Friar’s Head, Fishers Island, National Golf Links of America, Sebonack and Maidstone.
“Shinnecock is my favorite so far,” said Fowler, who tees off on No. 10 at 8:13 a.m. EDT with Matsuyama and Marc Leishman. “It’s a real golf course. It’s going to test you day-in and day-out, and it’s very straightforward right in front of you.”
Since then, Fowler has played Shinnecock several more times. And this week, he’s staying at the home of Shinnecock member Jimmy Dunne, who heads up a New York City-based investment banking firm and owns the course record of 63. On Tuesday, Fowler took a day off from his Shinnecock prep to play nearby Friar’s Head with Dunne, Skovron, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson, who joined the group on the second nine.
“Anytime you’re around Jimmy, you get to hear great stories,” said Fowler. “It’s fun to pick his brain and hear about his great rounds of golf, where he’s played and who he’s played with.
“He’s not shy about … his (63) here. He’s proud of it, and he should be. Like I said, Jimmy can still play. We had a good time the last two days. We played National [Golf Links] on Monday and Friar’s Head yesterday. We’ll have plenty of rounds left together, and hopefully he’s putting up 63s as my partner.”
Fowler wouldn’t mind posting a couple of those numbers on his scorecard this week. However, with breezy conditions expected for Thursday’s first round, that number might be unattainable. That’s OK with Fowler. He has posted scores in the past that would win a lot of majors (including an opening 65 last year at Erin Hills), but for some reason didn’t get it done that particular week.
As a player who relishes playing in all kinds of conditions, Shinnecock might offer one of his best chances to seal the deal.
“We all know I’m good enough to win,” he said. “I won the Players against, arguably, the best field all year on a golf course that is a very good test.
“These are special weeks, so we’re making sure that we’re getting ready for those four. We’re in a great spot. I feel very good about the game… [I’m] rested and ready to go.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.