'America's Rory' relishes challenging European dominance on the links

Rickie Fowler is the same age as the Northern Irish prodigy and, writes James Corrigan, can end the States' poor run in the majors

As the young man leading America's charge of the bright brigade into this 140th Open Championship, Rickie Fowler was not too difficult to spot yesterday. Resplendent in a typically garish costume, the 22-year-old showed he isn't about to hide in the Kent undergrowth as the home hopes go marching by.

For the first time, the United States have gone five majors without a win. Their inferiority is spelt out in the rankings. They have one member of the world's top five. Meanwhile, Europe boasts the top four. One can barely see those Stars and Stripes under all that blue and gold.

Fowler was honest enough to admit as much and, after his first round on Sandwich's famous links, he spoke of his country's determination to redress the balance. "The Europeans have given us a kick up the butt to step up," Fowler said. "The Europeans are playing well right now, which doesn't irritate us but does motivate us. It's a good rivalry between us. We don't hate them, we just want to beat them."

The Californian kid may just present the biggest threat. True, after 20 months as a pro he hasn't won yet, but he has impressed to the extent that he is talked about as "America's Rory". Corey Pavin showed his admiration by choosing him for a Ryder Cup wild card over so many established names last year. The selection was vindicated when he produced a heroic fight back from four down with four to play against Eduardo Molinari. Pavin had been seduced not only by his performances on the PGA Tour, but also by his Open debut in 2010.

Nobody at St Andrews played or scored any better than Fowler in the final three rounds. In fact, from the Friday onwards Fowler "won" the tournament. "I knew I must have been close," he said, when told of the stat. "The problem was that opening 79 set me back. Actually I didn't play that badly in the first round. I made a triple and a double late on to ruin my round. But it was a good tournament. It was nice to get to the weekend and have a top-15 finish."

Fowler's sights are aimed rather higher this time around. He might have a haircut which suggests he should be in a boy band – indeed, with his fellow Americans Bubba Watson and Ben Crane he has recently recorded a charity single – but he believes he is man enough to challenge in the majors. Another 22-year-old has convinced him of that.

"It was inspiring to see a fellow young player do what Rory McIlroy did and win the US Open by eight shots," Fowler said. " You know, he's a step or two ahead of me right now in professional golf. He turned pro a little bit younger than I did and he's off and running and doing incredibly well. Congressional was fun to watch and showed me what was possible."

Fowler is actually five months older than McIlroy, but delayed joining the professional ranks until two years later, after finishing his studies at Oklahoma State University. A brilliant amateur, Fowler did meet and beat McIlroy at the 2007 Walker Cup on the latter's home turf of Royal County Down. "I played him in alternate shot and won in a good match – but I think he's done okay since that," Fowler said with a smirk. "I think he's put that one behind him."

For Fowler, that match provided valuable experience of links golf and, since then, the seaside style has emerged as his favourite. That has plenty to do with him being a natural shot-maker and having a unique swing. It is almost impossible to imagine any individual being further removed from that old golfing cliche of the American automaton. "My old coach, Barry McDonnell, died in May," Fowler said. "I worked with him from when I was seven until I went to college. He was the biggest influence on me. He told me not to rely on him or any other coaches but to work on my own game and figure it out on my own. I like working the ball around and know that if I'm playing well if I can hit almost every shot on command. That's why I like playing links golf. It gives you the option to hit different shots, makes you play different shots. It doesn't dictate which shot you have to hit."

His imagination has certainly been captured by Royal St George's. Fowler had heard all the ghoulish stories of 2003, when the rough was high and gobbled up all balls the notorious, hog-backed fairways generously threw its way. So he was delighted with his discovery yesterday.

"This is a fun course with a lot of character, but there isn't much rough, it's pretty light," he said. "Obviously driving it into the fairway is an advantage, but if it's not blowing very much, you can definitely make birdies out there. I'm looking forward to the next few days and learning a bit more about the course. Shoot four scores under par and you'll have a chance. I'm confident I can play well here."

The oldies had better watch out. Them and Europe.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk