ARDMORE, Pa. – Rickie Fowler spent more time Saturday watching golf than he did playing golf. He covered more holes walking and serving as America’s No. 1 cheerleader than he did as the team’s playing leader.
That’s because it took Fowler, 20, of Murieta, Calif., a mere 25 holes to win both his matches and lead the U.S. to an 8-to-4 advantage over Great Britain & Ireland on the opening day of the 42nd Walker Cup Match at Merion Golf Club.
Fowler, who will turn pro following this competition after two first-team All-America seasons at Oklahoma State, joined with Alabama sophomore Bud Cauley in the morning foursomes (alternate shot) session to defeat Luke Goddard and Dale Whitnell, 6 and 5.
Fowler came right back in afternoon singles and dusted Sam Hutsby, 7 and 6. Merion has five great finishing holes. Good thing Fowler got to play them in his practice rounds.
“I just went out today and played my game,” Fowler said. “I think the experience I got in 2007 (Walker Cup) helped a lot. I wasn’t nervous at all. I felt comfortable out there from the start.”
He also got some help from Hutsby, who struggled most of the afternoon. Fowler won the first two holes with a par and a birdie. Hutsby won his only hole with a par at No. 3.
That’s when Fowler went on his tear. He won Nos. 5 and 6 with pars to go 3-up, then took Nos. 8 and 10 with pars to go 5-up. He won the 11th with a par and then closed out the match by sinking a hard-breaking 12-footer for birdie at No. 12.
“Sam seemed to struggle a bit and I was able to play steady and solid,” Fowler said. “It’s nice to be able to go out there and be a spectator; go out and try to get the guys fired up.”
The Americans were definitely fired up early on. At the time when Fowler was closing out his match, the U.S. was up in six of the other singles and all square in the other. It looked like things were going to get pretty ugly.
“It was looking pretty bleak, pretty desperate at one point,” said GB&I captain Colin Dalgleish. “But I think they (his team) knew how important it was to get some change on the board.”
And that’s what they did. The GB&I boys never quit, never rolled over and surrendered. From looking like they might only get one point, if any, they went on to win one match and halve four more.
“We started out strong (in the afternoon), but I knew GB&I would fight back,” said U.S. captain Buddy Marucci. “But while I applaud GB&I for the way they came back, I think the way our guys started was fantastic. They came out ready to play this afternoon.”
The 505-yard 18th hole was huge for GB&I as that’s where they picked up 1 1/2 of their four points while not giving up another point.
Gavin Dear won both 17 and 18 with pars to halve his match with Brian Harman; Matt Haines took the hole with a par for a halve against Morgan Hoffmann; and, after Drew Weaver won 16 and 17 with birdies for a 1-up edge, Chris Paisley won 18 with par for another halve. In addition, American Cameron Tringale and Wallace Booth each made bogey for a half point.
Meanwhile, in addition to Fowler, the U.S. side gained victories from Bud Cauley and Peter Uihlein, whose 18-foot par putt on the final hole in the morning gave him and Nathan Smith a 1-up win and propelled the Americans to a 3-1 lead after foursomes.
Cauley won holes 16 and 17 and defeated Niall Kearney, 2 and 1, while Uihlein, who was 4-up through 10 holes, made a 5-foot birdie putt on the long par-3 17th to beat Tommy Fleetwood, 2 and 1.
“No one on our side is expecting any gifts (on Sunday),” Marucci said. “We all know we are going to have to go out and play as hard as we can. That being said, I’m thrilled to be 8-4 (after first day). If you would have told us that in the morning (before the start of play), we would have stayed in bed.”
Dalgleish certainly knows his players have their work cut out for them in Sunday’s final day of competition.
“We need to drive it better, make a few more putts,” he said. “We just need to be a little tighter in a few more areas. Fortunately we have two more singles matches (10) tomorrow to hopefully help make up for that.”
In 2007, GB&I trailed the U.S. by four points going into the then eight final singles matches. It made up three of those points in the afternoon session but fell short by a point.
Sunday’s schedule of play will again have four foursome matches in the morning followed by, for the first time, 10 singles matches in the afternoon, meaning every player will compete in the final stretch.
While no GB&I players this year have any previous Walker Cup experience, the U.S. has a pair who have played in this biennial competition previously — Fowler in 2007 and Harman on the winning 2005 squad. With their play Saturday, Fowler now has a 5-1-0 Walker Cup record, while Harman is 3-0-2.
Results from Day 1 of the Walker Cup, played Sept. 12 at the par-70, 6,846-yard Merion Golf Club (East Course) in Ardmore, Pa.:
DAY 1: U.S. 8, GB&I 4
Morning foursome matches: U.S. 3, GB&I 1
Brian Harman, Morgan Hoffmann (U.S.) def. Sam Hutsby, Wallace Booth, 2 and 1
Peter Uihlein, Nathan Smith (U.S.) def. Gavin Dear, Matt Haines, 1 up
Rickie Fowler, Bud Cauley (U.S.) def. Luke Goddard, Dale Whitnell, 6 and 5
Stiggy Hodgson, Niall Kearney (GB&I) def. Cameron Tringale, Adam Mitchell, 3 and 1
Afternoon singles matches: U.S. 5, GB&I 3
Brian Harman (U.S.) vs. Gavin Dear, halved
Rickie Fowler (U.S.) def. Sam Hutsby, 7 and 6
Cameron Tringale (U.S.) vs. Wallace Booth, halved
Morgan Hoffmann (U.S.) vs. Matt Haines, halved
Peter Uihlein (U.S.) def. Tommy Fleetwood, 2 and 1
Drew Weaver (U.S.) vs. Chris Paisley, halved
Bud Cauley (U.S.) def. Niall Kearney, 2 and 1
Stiggy Hodgson (GB&I) def. Brendan Gielow, 2 and 1