FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Max Popper’s father, Adam, woke him up at 5:30 a.m. Friday. Max was eying a player in the 7:54 a.m. group off the 10th tee at Bethpage Black, and they needed to allow enough time to get from their home in Port Washington to Jones Beach, where a shuttle would bring them to Bethpage Black.
Max, 12, wasn’t going to play on this day — he will do that at nearby Sands Point Golf Club, another Tillinghast course, Saturday — but he dressed carefully anyway. He wore his favorite Puma apparel, most of it orange, and a flat-brimmed cap, and then, the final touch, a thick, black, stick-on mustache.
This is the power of Rickie Fowler.
“I like the clothes,” said Max, who said he shoots anywhere from 5 over to 13 over for nine holes. “I like the hat. I had fake mustaches at my house.”
“Costume shop,” Adam said. “Halloween.”
Fowler, 23, shot a second-round 70 at the Barclays and was at five under for the tournament, three shots off the lead held by Sergio Garcia and Nick Watney. After making a bogey on the 463-yard, par-4 ninth hole, his last of the day — his drive missed clearing the right edge of the bunker by inches — Fowler walked by his legion of fans, explaining that he had to sign his scorecard before signing his name to flags, caps and programs. Still, he signed for Max, who had been there for the opening tee shot, after all. Fowler’s girlfriend, Alexandra Browne, the daughter of Champions tour pro Olin, had followed Rickie as always, and gave him a kiss.
If you look closely you can see the orange is everywhere around Fowler. It’s in the scoring lines of his golf clubs, around the perimeter of his iPhone, and dots the little button on the bottom your thumb hits.
Wait — an orange iPhone?
“It’s actually painted,” Fowler said after making four birdies and three bogeys. “There’s a company that does it. [Fellow Tour pro] Hank Kuehne had it done for me.”
Most of all, you see the orange among Fowler’s impressionable fan boys.
“There were a few mustaches out there today,” he said. “I notice people when I’m out there, even though I’m obviously trying to stay focused. You can get a good laugh or a good smile. The young guys come out, but you might get four or five older ones in a group, too. I try to get to them all because I remember what a big deal something like that was to me when I was a kid.”
That wasn’t long ago. About five years ago golf looked top-heavy, leading to fears about what exactly a post-Tiger era might look like. Today, however, golf is exploding with young, charismatic and talented players, led by Rory McIlroy, also 23, and the undisputed No. 1 player in the world, and the ever-orange Fowler.
“I didn’t think the orange thing would happen out here,” said Geoff Ogilvy, who was at even par and will play into the weekend. “When he first came out like that, it was a bit out there, but you see the big hats and the hair and the orange all over the place now. He’s moved the needle in that way like no one else, and there are more people coming out to watch golf tournaments because of it. You can’t help but like him. He’s just such a good guy.”
This year more than ever, Fowler has given his fans substance and style. In a torrid run of four tournaments in five weeks, Fowler finished T10 at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, won a playoff with McIlroy and D.A. Points at the Wells Fargo, tied for second at the Players and finished T5 at the Crowne Plaza Colonial.
“When he won at Quail Hollow, he really finished off his second round to turn a 74 or 75 into a 72,” said Joe Skovron, Fowler’s caddie. “That put him in position to win if he got hot on the weekend, which of course is what happened. He did that all the way from New Orleans through Colonial.”
Be that as it may, if Fowler is to make his second consecutive Ryder Cup team he’ll need a captain’s pick from U.S. skipper Davis Love III. Given the way he’s played this year, and how Fowler performed at Celtic Manor in 2010, when he twice made clutch putts on 18 to salvage a half point, a pick seems likely.
Fowler emerged from the scoring trailer and, true to his word, signed every last autograph for kids, for adults, for men and women. Rickie-mania was more subdued Friday morning than it was Thursday afternoon, but still, it was there.
“Rickie, you’re a stud, man!”
“Rickie, you’re awesome! The kids love you!”
Max Popper and his dad, who have attended three U.S. Opens — Shinnecock Hills ’04, Winged Foot ’06, Bethpage '09 — will remember this week’s Barclays. They will pull for their man to be included in the Ryder Cup at Medinah, Sept. 28-30, and they will have company, which will most likely include U.S. captain Love.
You gotta respect the orange, even if it wears a silly mustache.