LOS ANGELES — Rickie Fowler was two holes away from finishing one of the best rounds in U.S. Open history Thursday when he pushed his tee shot on the par-5 eighth hole right. His ball had found its way into one of Los Angeles Country Club’s sandy barrancas, but somehow, in between a tree and a bridge, Fowler had a window.
He later said he didn’t want to overthink the shot, so he pulled a pitching wedge and hit it perfectly over and through every possible hazard. The subsequent approach shot left him 13 feet for an improbable birdie — his 10th of the day — which he sank on his way to a U.S. Open-record 62.
Fowler didn’t hold the mark by himself for long. Less than 30 minutes later, Xander Schauffele carded his own 8-under 62 — a round free of bogeys and featuring eight birdies.
“It’s not really what you expect at a U.S. Open,” said Schauffele, who added that “I was just chasing Rickie up the leaderboard.”
Branden Grace was previously the only player to fire a 62 at a major, accomplishing the feat in the third round of the 2017 Open Championship.
Previously, there had been only two 8-under rounds in U.S. Open history: Justin Thomas in 2017 at Erin Hills (9-under 63 in third round) and Johnny Miller in 1973 at Oakmont (8-under 63 in final round).
Fowler and Schauffele lead the field by two shots after the first round.
Dustin Johnson and Wyndham Clark, who played in the afternoon group, nearly joined Fowler and Schauffele at 62. Johnson hit all 13 fairways; on the par-3 ninth hole, his shot went into the bunker, leading to his only bogey. He settled for a 64 to join Clark, who had an eagle and seven birdies in his round.
Rory McIlroy shot a front-nine 30, his best nine-hole score in a major, and finished with a 65. Brian Harman was 6 under through his first 10 holes but shot 1 over the rest of the way to also finish at 65.
— Xander Schauffele (@XSchauffele) June 15, 2023
Despite carding two bogeys, Fowler, who started on the back nine, made five birdies in his first nine holes and had four in a row between the 18th hole and the third. By the time he made the 13-foot putt on the eighth hole, he had already made four putts of over 10 feet.
“I just had to trust it,” Fowler said of his putter.
Fowler led players in the first round in strokes gained putting, picking up 4.81 strokes on the field. The last time Fowler led a PGA Tour event in that category was at the 2019 Waste Management Open, his last Tour victory. (Fowler gained 9.54 strokes on the field in that event.)
The road back to contention has been long for Fowler, who did not qualify for the U.S. Open the past two years or the Masters this year but has had six top-10 finishes on tour in 2023. The putter that was hot Thursday has been a key factor in his resurgence. It was also a putter he did not have until just a few months ago.
As his caddie Rickie Romano explained after the round, Fowler’s long Odyssey Versa Jailbird is a replica of Romano’s own putter, which Fowler fell in love with ahead of the American Express tournament in Palm Springs, California, earlier this year when the two played nine holes at the nearby Madison Club.
“On the putting green, I rolled in a couple and he kind of looked over and was like, ‘Hey, can I see that?'” Romano told ESPN after the round Thursday. “We went out on the course and played, and he grabbed it on every green. And then he used it on every green. And then on the fourth green, he said, ‘This putter’s like cheating.’ … It freed him up.”
Fowler looked more than freed up Thursday at LACC. In fact, he said the way he has been playing lately has felt like the closest he has gotten to 2014, one of the best years of his career when he finished in the top five in every major.
“I’ve been playing fairly consistently, but a lot of it for me is what I’ve been able to get out of off weeks where I’m not playing very well,” Fowler said. “Still being able to make the cut and kind of turn those into at least top 20s or top 10s, where the last few years those were missed cuts and going home.”
Said Romano: “He’s been trending in the right direction and just kind of all came together today.”
Fowler was branded one of the sport’s next young stars when he first turned pro in 2009. He became not just a big name on the course but a brand off it. The signature win of his career at The Players Championship, however, came over eight years ago in 2015. Though he has come close to winning majors, he has yet to add one to his résumé.
If there’s one person who knows about coming close in those four events each year, it’s Schauffele, who has six top-five major finishes and zero wins in his career. The California native had some familiarity with this course, and it showed in the first round. Schauffele’s ballstriking was as close to perfection, leading to 16 greens in regulation and an average of just over 1.5 putts per hole.
Schauffele, for his part, downplayed the accomplishment of shooting 62, noting that the cloudy weather and mist during the morning made the greens and fairways softer and more amenable to scoring. Scottie Scheffler, who finished with a 3-under 67, said he expected Thursday to be the easiest conditions they will play in all week.
“I personally did not see a 62 out there, though,” Scheffler said. “I guess it was out there.”
With warmer weather incoming and the USGA likely to consider setting up the course tougher in the forthcoming days, the players are expecting higher scores.
“It’s just Thursday,” Schauffele reminded the media. “It’s literally the first day of the week.”
Fowler reiterated a similar thought, noting there was still plenty of golf ahead. But for a player who has qualified for only the PGA Championship the past two years and hasn’t won a tournament since 2019, a record-breaking round undeniably had more significance.
“It’s definitely been long and tough,” Fowler said. “A lot longer being in that situation than you’d ever want to. But it makes it so worth it having gone through that and being back where we are now.”