One year ago, Rickie Fowler milled around The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., signing a few autographs, pounding balls on the range and chatting up competitors, caddies and fans. Basically, he did everything but hit a shot that counted in the 2022 U.S. Open.
As an alternate – the next guy into the field if any player withdrew – all the affable Fowler could do was wait and hope for the call to come. It never did, and he left without competing in the National Open for a second consecutive year.
“That was a long Thursday last year,” said Fowler.
He will have much fonder memories of what transpired this year on the third Thursday of June.
In yet another sign that the 34-year-old has emerged from the worst slump of his 15-year professional career, Fowler carded a U.S. Open-record, 8-under-par 62 to share the Round 1 lead of the 123rd edition of the championship. About 20 minutes after Fowler made his round official, fellow Southern Californian Xander Schauffele matched the feat.
It didn’t hurt that the conditions were perfect for scoring: overcast skies, temperatures in the 60s and virtually no wind. A total of 37 players bettered par on the 7,252-yard, par-70 George C. Thomas Jr. masterpiece. Two-time major champion Dustin Johnson, who bogeyed his final hole (the par-3 ninth), fired a 64 to join Wyndham Clark, who registered his first PGA Tour win at the Wells Fargo Championship in May two strokes back.
The achievements of Fowler and Schauffele harkened back to 1980 at Baltusrol Golf Club, when Jack Nicklaus, the eventual winner, and fellow Ohio State Buckeye Tom Weiskopf had matching 63s in Round 1.
Whether Fowler or Schauffele manages to hoist the trophy late Sunday afternoon for what would be their first major championship remains to be seen.
But in Fowler’s case, it’s further proof the changes he’s made with legendary swing instructor Butch Harmon are paying off. In 2014, Fowler became one of four players to finish in the top five of all four majors in a single year (joining Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth), but the only one not to register a win (he tied for second twice). He won The Players Championship the following year and tied for fifth in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where he opened with a 65.
Over the last few years, Fowler’s game took a bad turn, as he slipped to 182nd in the Official World Golf Ranking by the end of the 2021-22 PGA Tour season. He started the 2022-23 season in September with a tie for sixth in the Fortinet Championship in Northern California, and slowly clawed his way back. The five-time PGA Tour winner is still searching for his first victory since the 2019 WM Phoenix Open, but thanks to six top 10s, he climbed back inside the top 60 of the OWGR to avoid going through U.S. Open qualifying.
Coming into this week, he’d only teed it up in four of the last 10 major championships, which includes a missed cut in last month’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
Although he didn’t have the best practice sessions leading into the week, Fowler found something that clicked on Thursday. He went on to record a single-round, U.S. Open-record 10 birdies, including four in a row from No. 18 (he started on No. 10).
No hole epitomized his day more than the par-5 eighth, his 17th of the day. His drive found the barranca, but he managed to hit a pitching wedge to the right of the bridge to a comfortable yardage for his third. He stuck his 104-yard wedge approach to 13 feet to set up his final birdie.
“It's definitely been long and tough,” said Fowler of his resurgence. “A lot longer being in that situation than you'd ever want. But it makes it so worth it having gone through that and being back where we are now.”
Schauffele, 29, of San Diego, has been a U.S. Open machine since tying for fifth in his first start six years ago at Erin Hills. Before last year’s tie for 14th, the 2021 Tokyo Olympics gold medalist had posted five consecutive top-7 finishes, including a share of third at Pebble Beach in 2019. A seven-time PGA Tour winner, Schauffele produced the day’s only bogey-free round. Like Fowler, he started on No. 10 and posted birdies on Nos. 10, 12 and 15, then added birdies on Nos. 1, 2, 5, 7 and 8.
“I'd say the sun didn't come out and it was misting this morning, so I'd say the greens held a little bit more moisture than anticipated,” said Schauffele. “It made the greens that more [manageable] speed, and then coming into greens you're able to pull some wedges back.
“I'm anticipating the sun to come out just as much as every West Coast person out here. I'm thinking the course is going to firm up a little bit.”
All 156 competitors will play Round 2 on Friday, beginning at 6:45 a.m. PDT with the low 60 and ties advancing to the weekend.
“Butch is great, just his voice and having him in your corner. He's seen a lot and been around so many great players. He's coached so many guys to reach, I would say, their potential. I feel like he's a very good golf and life coach. He understands the playing and the mental side … to give you a little confidence to just go play golf and keep it simple. That's been one of the big things has been me getting back to playing golf.” – Rickie Fowler on making the change to noted instructor Butch Harmon
“It's just Thursday. It's literally the first day of a tournament. It's a good start.” – Xander Schauffele when asked about the record-tying 62
“I think this course is great. It's a great venue. It's in perfect condition. It feels like a U.S. Open.” – Dustin Johnson after shooting a 6-under 64
“It was pretty benign, to be honest. Tees were up. The pins weren't crazy tough. There wasn't that much wind, and it wasn't that firm. If you hit it in the fairway, you had a good chance to make birdies on most of the holes. If you missed fairways, it was still challenging, but I thought it was very gettable today.” – Wyndham Clark after shooting a 6-under 64
“I like that the USGA does a pretty good job of giving you scorable holes. Even though there were holes that were extremely difficult, holes like 13, and even a hole like 12 is normally a scorable hole, but where the pin was today it wasn't scorable… I thought the setup was fantastic today.” – Brian Harman (5-under 65)
“When we started walking down that fairway it started to feel like I guess it's supposed to and it was quite cool hearing all the go [Golden] Bears and yelling out my hometown of Valencia.” – Max Homa on playing his first major in Los Angeles
“I don't know how many players have got a hole-in-one in a U.S. Open. It's quite cool to be part of this group of people and it's my first as a professional. So, sharing this with the crowd today was just a moment I would never forget.” – Matthieu Pavon on his ace at No. 15, the 49th in championship history
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.