It’s not supposed to be that easy.
It’s not supposed to be as easy as Rickie Fowler made it look on Thursday at Erin Hills.
This is, after all, the United States Open, the 117th version and it is, as Jack Nicklaus calls it “the ultimate test in golf.”
Not since Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf has any player shot seven-under par in the opening round of a U.S. Open. Both did it in 1980 on a sunny Thursday at Baltusrol. Weiskopf posted his 63 first, then Nicklaus right behind him. For the record, Nicklaus missed a three-footer for birdie at the 18th that would have given him a 62, eight-under.
That happened eight years before Rickie Fowler was born.
Rickie looked in total control of his game from the get-go. Starting on the 10th tee, Fowler used the age-old formula for success in a U.S. Open — fairways hit plus greens hit plus birdie putts made equals total success.
Rickie looked about as comfortable as you can given the circumstances, given the new venue, its length, it craggy bunkers, that gosh-awful knee-high fescue that tortured guys like world’s No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
Rickie steered his way around all that trouble, hit 12 of the 14 fairways and 15 of the 18 putting surfaces. When Rickie missed a green, it was barely, on the fringe or close.
Fowler and the rest of the morning starters had light breezes and a course softened by three days of rain — none of that old USGA fast-and-firm stuff on Thursday morning.
Rickie knew there was a score there to be had. “It was there because of the softer conditions,” he pointed out after a long hike from the ninth green to the scoring tent. “Even though the course was soft, the greens were still rolling,” Fowler added, admitting that he was a little less aggressive with his shorter putts than he normally might be.
“We’re on the better side of the draw today,” Fowler observed as the winds began to gather afternoon strength. “But you may have the same situation for us on Friday afternoon.”
It was a huge round, a career round for Fowler. His best score in a major prior to that sparkling 65 was 66.
He’s now in lofty company but needs to remember that only one of those seven-under shooters back in 1980 went on to win and that, of course, was Nicklaus.
Right now, Fowler is carrying that dreaded “best player without a major” tag.
He took the first big step toward ditching it on Thursday.
But Fowler’s smart enough to know that major championships are never won on Thursdays. Some are lost, but none are won.
Rickie inserted himself into the history books with that bogey-free, seven-birdie effort. He was smart enough to play aggressive when he need to, played great defense when he had to.
Out of all the Top 10 players who went out in the morning, Fowler was head and shoulders above the rest. Neither Johnson, the defending champ, nor Jordan Spieth, the 2015 champ, nor Hideki Matsuyama or Jon Rahm or Alex Noren could break par at Erin Hills.
Rickie didn’t break par, he shattered it.
And in the process, he stepped right into the spotlight, right into the heat of a major championship.