As a younger man, Rickie Fowler often sported pants and shirts colored in green, orange and pink, suiting up for a round of golf as a teenage girl might dress for the prom. He had long hair and wore goofy hats. He was talented and touted as a future star, yet it was tough to take him too seriously.
In 2014, Fowler finished in the top five in all four majors. But he failed to finish in the top 10 in the nine majors since. He’s probably the best player to never win a major.
Maybe that’s about to change. At 28, he’s dressing in a respectable manner, has short hair and holds the lead after the first round of the U.S. Open. It’s time to take him seriously.
“Fowler has had a solid few years in majors and non-majors. There’s no reason why he couldn’t finish this,” Westgate golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “He’s been through so much, and he knows what it’s all about now.”
Fowler is 0-for-29 in major appearances, yet he teed off Thursday at 15-1 odds and ranked No. 1 in the ticket count at the Westgate sports book. More tickets were written on Fowler than on Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth or Jason Day. But, Sherman said, the Fowler bets were of the "smaller variety."
After firing a 7-under-par 65 to tame the long Erin Hills layout in Wisconsin, Fowler tops the leaderboard and is the 3-1 favorite on the adjusted odds board.
A former Arizona State golfer sits one stroke back in second, but it’s not Rahm. It’s Paul Casey, a quiet 39-year-old with one career PGA Tour win that came eight years ago.
It was an odd day, on and just off the course. Phil Mickelson never showed up. And a commercial blimp plummeted from the sky and blew up in a fiery crash about a mile from Erin Hills.
The burning blimp was symbolic of the rounds played by Johnson (3 over), Bubba Watson (3 over), Rahm (4 over), Rory McIlroy (6 over) and Jason Day (7 over). Johnson, Rahm and Day ranked 1-2-3 in money wagered at the Westgate.
Public bettors should not feel too bad about whiffing on some favorites. Brandel Chamblee, an opinionated analyst for the Golf Channel, picked McIlroy to win. McIlroy imploded and is tied for 143rd in a field of 156 players.
After Fowler, here’s how the top of the Westgate’s adjusted odds board looks going into Friday’s second round: Casey 6-1, Brooks Koepka 12-1, Sergio Garcia 15-1 and Marc Leishman 20-1.
Casey, who closed at 40-1, is tied with Xander Schauffele, a 23-year-old making his debut in a major. Schauffele, who won the 2011 California State High School championship and played three years at San Diego State, closed at 500-1 odds and is now at 50-1.
“Casey gets respected support from sharp players in each major in matchups and outrights,” Sherman said.
Brian Harman, Tommy Fleetwood and Koepka are tied at 5 under. Koepka, one of the game’s biggest hitters, was a relatively popular pick at 30-1 odds.
There are several other established players under par and in the hunt, including Patrick Reed, Kevin Na, J.B. Holmes, Lee Westwood and Ernie Els. Garcia, two months removed from his first major championship at the Masters, trails Fowler by five shots.
Johnson, the defending champ, and Rahm were big-money flops, each spending much of the day hacking through thick knee-high fescue and displaying poor body language.
“That’s surprising,” Sherman said. “I thought those two would really play into this course well. Both of them lacked some mental toughness. DJ sometimes just takes himself out of the tournament when it’s not going right. It seemed like the course was there for the taking. The whole thing was staying out of the fescue and in the fairway.”
Spieth, 1 over par, is not out of it yet, but he needs to start scoring better and stop whining when things are not going his way. Day and McIlroy were comically bad, and considering McIlroy’s recent injuries and form, his first-day flop was not a big surprise.
Fowler recorded seven birdies, 11 pars and no bogeys. But it was just one round of four, and it’s not uncommon for first-round major leaders to flame out. (In Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday, Cleveland led Golden State 37-33 after the first quarter and lost by nine.) Now we move to the second quarter.
Golf instructor Butch Harmon once asked Fowler, “Are you going to be a Kardashian or are you going to be a golf pro?”
The message got through. Fowler finally acts like a pro. He’s not a major winner yet, though.