ARDMORE, Pa. – Saturday at the 42nd Walker Cup Match, there was give and there was take, there were leads built and lost, fates of nip-and-tuck matches gripped tightly and then handed away with a pretty little bow attached.
And then there was Rickie Fowler, the red, white and blue sledgehammer.
The Alpha male of Team USA with the boyish Dutchboy locks curling out from beneath his cap insists there are nine other capable leaders at his side, but this team takes its cues from two leading men: Fowler and Brian Harman, each of whom has been privileged enough to be on a winning U.S. side.
Harman uncharacteristically gave away his singles match late Saturday afternoon, walking away with a disappointing halve in the lead position. Fowler, out second in the afternoon, made sure never to give his opponent the slightest ray of hope, all the while giving his captain and teammates hope by the bushel.
Fowler was a wrecking ball in each of his first-day matches, teaming with another strong ballstriker, Bud Cauley, to romp in morning foursomes, 6 and 5, before cruising to a lopsided 7-and-6 triumph in singles over England’s Sam Hutsby. The effort helped the U.S. jump out to an 8-4 advantage, with 12 points in the balance on Sunday. On a day when GB&I battled valiantly and points were difficult to collect, Fowler collected his pair as if he were simply whizzing past ‘Go’ on a Monopoly board.
The routing of Merion Golf Club’s East Course is such that holes 2 through 12 are played across Ardmore Avenue. The short 13th returns across the road and runs in front of the Merion clubhouse, and then 14 through 18 sit on the back of the property. The only time Fowler took a glance at those closing holes on Saturday was to root on his teammates, his business window having closed well before then.
As in Rickie Fowler, 2-0, gone fishin’.
In what began as potentially an arduous, 36-hole day, Fowler, in his amateur finale, played only 25 holes, and he will be fresh today as the U.S. appears poised to wrap up its third consecutive cup. He was 5 up through eight holes in the morning, 5 up through 10 in the afternoon. GB&I does not seem to have an answer for him. So if Fowler secures two more points with such ease, his teammates will only need deliver 3.5 points for victory.
In a word, one would have to describe Fowler as efficient.
“I kept it fairly easy on myself,” he said. “I knew this team was ready to go yesterday. And I was definitely ready to go this morning.”
And so he went, in dominating fashion. At times he was far from the top of his game, but he displayed flashes of the brilliance that will parlay into a nice little lifetime of Sundays on the PGA Tour. The wedge shots. The putting touch. There are few guarantees in this game, but Fowler knew he’d have a spot waiting on the Walker Cup side if he chose to forgo the pro riches for a few months and remain amateur long enough to compete at Merion. Saturday was a day when his heart thumped with confirmation that he’d made the right decision.
“It’s awesome,” Fowler said of his Walker Cup experience. “It’s the most fun I’ve had playing golf, especially being able to play a Walker Cup here at home, in the States. I knew I was going to go to two years of school, and I really wanted to have one more time to do this. It’s been a good time. I’m definitely glad I made the decision I did.”
Sam Hutsby, on the short end of that 7-and-6 result, even seemed glad that Fowler stayed amateur, as well.
“That’s who I wanted to play – Rickie,” Hutsby said. “But I’d have to play well, and I didn’t today. He was superb. He’s got a fantastic game. He didn’t miss a shot, really. He hits it fantastic and has a great short game. A tough combination to beat.”
Another man who is pleased Fowler put the pros on hold is U.S. captain Buddy Marucci, who Saturday watched his team fight and scrape for its 8-4 cushion. Marucci said he was satisfied with the lead, but in truth, he will go to sleep Saturday night knowing it could have been greater. Six of those points were hard-fought, and then there were the two delivered by Fowler, who two years ago was the young surprise of Team USA, going 3-1 as America won by a point at Royal County Down in Ireland.
“Rickie has been an incredible teammate to everybody on this team,” Marucci said. “He was fabulous the last time, you know, as a youngster. … You never know what’s going to happen. But we sent him out early at County Down and he was brilliant, and he’s never stopped impressing me. This afternoon was just another brilliant performance.”
One more day as an amateur for Fowler, and next week it’s on to Boise, Idaho, for a Nationwide Tour stop, where he’ll have a fat staff bag with his name on it, be decked out in Puma clothes and be playing for cash. At Merion on Saturday, though, fans followed him down the middle of the fairways and surrounded him on the greens as if he were the ghost of Bobby Jones, and that pro career seemed far, far in the distance.
Twenty solid competitors from two sides of the pond gathered at storied Merion, and none stood out quite like Fowler, who was the absolute class of the lot. In an individual sport, he relished being part of his team, and on this day, he didn’t need any paycheck to feel like a rich young man.