Inside the Frat House: Why six American stars are roommates at The Open

July 20, 2019

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Even abroad, an ocean away from the familiar comforts of Florida mansions and high-walled country clubs, six American PGA Tour stars have crammed their way into a rental house. Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson and Jimmy Walker opted once again for camaraderie over comfort at this week’s Open Championship, continuing a recent tradition by piling into a sprawling rental overlooking Royal Portrush.

As he finished Monday’s practice round, Fowler gazed up from the 18th green and tried to identify the group’s rental from several large houses overlooking the course. “I guess I could walk here from the house, but it would just be through a fan gate,” he said, pondering the possibility.

It’s not just the competitors in the house, however. “Six players, three wives and a chef,” Kisner explained after his Saturday round. It sounds like the start of a joke. In reality, it’s half of a formidable Ryder Cup squad.

This is nothing new for this crew, of course. To say nothing of boyhood friends Spieth and Thomas, or current Florida neighbors Fowler and Thomas, this group has bonded on multiple U.S. teams in international competition. More to the point, they’ve had nearly this exact group for this event since 2016 at Royal Troon. Only when Jason Dufner failed to qualify for this year’s Open did the Carnoustie 7 (below) from 2018 turn into the Portrush 6.

Kisner’s in town fresh off a missed cut at the Scottish Open. He’s been traveling with Thomas, who finished T9 in Scotland before jumping over to Northern Ireland. Johnson is the third member of the house traveling stag, fresh off a substandard T37 at the John Deere Classic.

Fowler and Walker missed the cut at the Scottish, too. Spieth, the final member, hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship, but flew to Dublin for some pre-Open Irish golf, including at least one bonus round at Portmarnock. On Monday, Walker posted a photo of the three house couples: he and his wife Erin, Spieth with his wife Annie, and Fowler with his fiancee Allison.

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Kiz was in the bathroom….. @k_kisner

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“We gave all the bedrooms and bathrooms to the women,” Kisner said. “So the rest of us share another one.”

In a sport famous for routine-oriented loners, for wolfpacks of one, this house stands apart. What’s the philosophy here? Is it a strategic way to take on a distant land — or just for kicks?

“It’s a really fun week,” Spieth said assuredly. “The last four years, five or six of us players have stayed in one house. It’s a lot of fun. We don’t normally do that. There’s a lot of good table topics, and just shooting the s— and stuff. It’s good.”

When it comes to house hierarchy, Spieth deferred to his wisecracking fellow southerner. “Kiz is kind of the leader of the house. And then everybody just has fun. It’s a cool experience being able to all stay in one place at The Open Championship and enjoy the coolest tournament in the world.”

House ringleader? Kisner wasn’t so sure. “Maybe on just the drinking and the funny part,” he said. “The rest of it, they’re in charge.”

These guys are hardly slumming it, of course — in large part thanks to that chef. Chef Michael Parker, formerly of the Floridian in Palm City, counts Brooks Koepka among his chief clients and has cult hero status in the Tour world.

“He’s a cool dude. Makes some good food,” Spieth offered. 

“I guess he tells Brooks sorry — he’s already booked for this week,” Kisner adds. “He’s great. He gets it, he understands golf, stays out of the way and cooks good meals.”

The home-cooked meals and the year-after-year lodging have made these houses true home bases, exciting places to return to. There’s a trend on Tour away from the sterility of a hotel room; this tradition takes that one step further.

“We all just hang at the house, whether it’s in the morning before play, or tonight we’ll all have dinner and hang out, whether it’s movies or watching some golf,” Fowler said. “It’s a good escape. It’s a fun hang.”

For his part as alleged social chair, Kisner admitted he’s been disappointed by the lack of gaming, attributable to weather, timing and preparations. In 2017, baseball was the sport of choice; in 2018 soccer was in vogue.

“Just not as many of the exciting outdoor activities. Not as much goofing off, I think just because the schedules have been off,” he lamented. “Yesterday Jimmy Walker and I teed off at 3:30, everybody was gone all day and it was just him and I laying around, and we don’t get home till 10 o’clock at night.”

The newness of Royal Portrush contributed to their practice-time focus, too. Thomas said he’d attempted to scout the course ahead of time on YouTube, but came up relatively empty. It’s a reminder of their diligence — for all the talk of hangs and couches, these guys are pros for a reason.

But there’s a collective camaraderie in the house, one that leads to players rooting for one another for concrete reasons. “Hopefully some of the boys will be going late as well, or at least not early,” Fowler said. “We’ll hang out in the morning. Typically throw a movie on, whatever it may be, depending on how late I’m going.”

Heading to Sunday’s final round, Fowler has the latest tee time. After a Saturday 66, he sits T6 at eight under, but that puts him eight shots back of Shane Lowry’s lead, meaning another near-miss is more likely than a first major win. Spieth made an early Saturday move but never fully launched into contention; he’s seven under.

Thomas shot 68 to stake a claim to four under. Kisner shot 70 and is two under. Four under-par rounds for the four roomies; Johnson (four over) and Walker (six over) failed to make the weekend.

As for the best and worst roommate? Thomas laughed, then punted on the question. “Everybody’s tied for first on that.”