ERIN, Wis. — Jon Rahm played an opening round to forget, but the 22-year-old Spaniard allowed that his day wasn’t a total waste as he left the U.S. Open on Thursday afternoon.
“(Rickie Fowler) put on an absolute clinic on how to play Erin Hills,” Rahm said. “He was just spot-on every time … it was an unbelievable run of golf to watch.”
How unbelievable was it?
“It was like he was playing Xbox instead of golf,” Rahm said.
The video game comparison might be a tad cliche at this point, but there’s no denying that Fowler did what is usually impossible and made a U.S. Open track look easy. His 7-under 65 tied an event record for the lowest opening round score in relation to par. (Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf also went seven-under at Baltusrol in 1980.)
Fowler was two shots better than his closest competition, a trio of Brooks Koepka, Brian Harman and Tommy Fleetwood. He was 11 shots better than playing partner Rahm (+4), eight better than Jordan Spieth (+1) and 10 better than Dustin Johnson (+3).
There’s a lot of golf to be played, of course, but Fowler’s opening bid puts him in good position to become the seventh straight first-time major winner on the PGA Tour.
It probably won’t be as easy as the 28-year-old Fowler made it look on Thursday.
“You don’t get many rounds at the U.S. Open that are stress-free,” Fowler said.
Fowler should know after missing the cut at both 2016 Oakmont and 2015 Chambers Bay following a T-2 at Pinehurst in 2014.
But after also missing the cut in Memphis last week, Fowler played the first round looking like he didn’t have a worry in the world. Taking advantage of a rain-softened course, Fowler used his length to carve Erin Hills into pieces. He hit all but one fairway. He birdied all four of the par-5s. Each time he hit into the green, he left himself an uphill putt. He putted aggressively, notching seven birdies and no bogeys.
About the only hiccup came when a boorish fan shouted that he had bet on Fowler “at 4 to 1” as the golfer addressed a long birdie putt on No. 6. Fowler stepped off the putt, glared at the fan and shook his head — who would distract a golfer they’d wagered money on? — before saving par one stroke later.
Fowler came to Wisconsin as a betting favorite because his profile matches what most believe will take to win at Erin Hills.
He can boom with the best of them so the 7,845 yards the course played at on Thursday didn’t pose a threat. He even reached the par-5 632-yard 18th in two shots.
His driving accuracy has been good this year in a season that saw him win at Honda so Erin Hills’ wide fairways have rewarded him all week.
Just as important, he’s young and should be able to withstand a weekend in the sun on the treeless and hilly course. The course features more than a mile of walking distance between the greens and next tees so the next three days will be an act of endurance.
With Sergio Garcia exorcising his own demons at Augusta earlier this year, Fowler has arguably inherited the mantle of “best player to never win a major.”
Asked on Thursday if that was a burden or a compliment, Fowler chose the latter.
“There’s a lot of really good players out here who haven’t won a major,” he said. “It’d be nice to get rid of that at some point. I’m not saying this is or isn’t the week but I like the way this golf course suits me and we’re off to a good start.”
To say the least.