OAKMONT, Pa. – Rickie Fowler’s win at the Players in 2015 ushered in talk of a “Big Four” in golf.
The thinking went that Fowler was ready to join Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy in competing for major championships. The reasoning was well founded: Fowler had finished in the top five in every major in 2014, then won the “fifth major” at the Players.
But it simply hasn’t happened. Fowler’s finishes in majors since that victory read like this: cut, T30, T30, cut, cut.
After an opening-round 76 in the 116th U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, Fowler hung around the cut line until the back nine of his second round Saturday. He played those holes in 5-over, dropping to 11-over for the tournament and missing his third straight cut overall – just the second time in his career that’s happened.
“That’s kind of the main goal, but you’ve got to focus on smaller things to get the game back where we want it,” he said of chasing a major championship. “It’s been a fine line with the missed cuts as of late.”
Fowler hit just 50 percent of fairways in two rounds at Oakmont, greatly reducing his chances of success.
“I didn’t drive the ball well,” he said. “You don’t have to putt very well here. You’re not necessarily having to make a lot of putts, just because of how tough the greens are. But if you drive the ball well, you’re able to give yourself more looks than anyone else, and you’re bound to make something.
“Not getting the ball in play as much as I needed to is what made it tough.”
Fowler is currently ranked fourth in the world and would thus qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. After his round, he wavered for the first time on whether he would play, given the turmoil currently going on in Rio de Janeiro.
“I’m definitely excited about the opportunity, but I think we want to make sure that we do our homework and make sure that we feel safe about down there both on the security reason and the health reasons,” he said. “That’s our main focus right now.”
A bevy of big names joined Fowler in missing the cut Saturday.
Phil Mickelson – who earlier in the day was optimistic about making it with a score of 7-over – highlighted that list, along with Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Patrick Reed and Ernie Els.
Fowler and Mickelson shared a dubious distinction, becoming the only two players in the top 50 in the world ranking to miss the cut at the Masters, Players and U.S. Open this year.
It was hard not to think of the scene in the Adam Sandler classic “Happy Gilmore” – when announcer Verne Lundquist turns to his broadcast partner and asks “Who the hell is Happy Gilmore? – when watching Gregory Bourdy shoot up the leader board Saturday.
Bourdy, a 34-year-old from France, had reporters scrambling for their media guides after briefly reaching 5-under during his second round.
He did so with a scintillating three-hole stretch on the back nine, beginning with a 137-yard hole-out for eagle on the par-4 11th hole. He backed that up with consecutive birdies on the 13th and 14th holes to take solo possession of the lead.
“I feel very good in my game the last few weeks,” Bourdy said. “I really love the difficulty of this course. … At the end, it was a very good day on a very difficult course like this.”
Oakmont fought back from Bourdy’s assault, taking back a stroke on the par-3 16th hole, then two more when he made a double bogey on the par-3 18th. Bourdy’s second shot was short of the green, and he flubbed his third.
“Golf courses like this, you have to play perfectly and sometimes play some not as risky as you want,” he said. “You need to hit it perfectly, and I missed it.”
Bourdy is chasing some serious history. Arnaud Massy’s victory in the 1907 British Open remains the only time a French player has won a major.
“It’s possible,” he said of his chances of winning. “I know it’s possible, so that’s the main thing.”
Bourdy got into this week’s field by earning medalist honors after shooting rounds of 67 and 68 during the sectional qualifier at Walton Heath Golf Club in England. He’s playing in his second career major, missing the cut in the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club. He does have four career wins on the European Tour, but the last was in 2013.
“It’s one of the biggest tournaments in the world with the biggest field,” he said. “It’s good to be at the top, and I’ll do my best to be at the top on Sunday.”
Jon Rahm came into this week’s U.S. Open as the world’s top-ranked amateur.
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that he’s the only one of 11 who started the tournament to make the cut.
Rahm finished his second round at 1-under 69 Saturday to sit at 5-over 145 for the championship, one clear of the cut line.
“I can say it’s a huge, huge accomplishment,” he said. “Extremely honored to have done it, and it’s kind of humbling to see how many great amateurs are playing here. … Just a lot of high-quality golf, and to be the only one makes me realize how good of a day I had. I’m extremely proud of it.”
Rahm has had no shortage of accomplishments during his amateur career, which will end next week when he turns professional at the Quicken Loans National. During his senior season at Arizona State, Rahm had a 69.41 stroke average and finished in the top 10 of all 13 tournaments in which he played, winning three times. He became the first two-time winner of the Ben Hogan Award, which is given annually to the best college golfer in the country, and as a senior won the Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year Award.
“Even if I won all those things, I’m human and I shot 6-over yesterday,” Rahm said. “It makes me realize that I can have a future in this game. It’s nice to look back and see all what I’ve done. It motivates me to keep working harder to keep on accomplishing things like that.”
Rahm’s story of how he came to the U.S. for college golf is charmingly simple.
“My dad literally dropped me off at the airport and said, ‘Goodbye, son,’” said the native of Barrika, Spain. “He realized the future of golf is in the States, so you better go there. If you don’t like it, the worst that will happen is you can learn English. It turned out great for me.”
Rahm, who graduated with a degree in communications this spring, has his parents here at Oakmont, along with his brother and girlfriend among a cheering section of 11 people.
“Every time I hit a good shot, they’re yelling louder than anybody,” he said. “That makes me feel great. … To make a cut for my parents, after graduating, is probably the most special thing I could do for them. It’s a really special moment, especially at Oakmont.”
Rahm poured in an 11-foot birdie putt on the par-4 17th during the second round to give himself some breathing room from the cut line.
“Honestly, my mind was so clear at that point,” he said. “I got into my own zone. In my mind, there was no chance I was missing that putt. … It’s probably the best putt I’ve made in the last month.”
At least one amateur has made the cut in 18 of the last 21 U.S. Open championships.