Rookie Rickie Fowler is turning heads with Hollywood looks and an electric game

Rookie Rickie Fowler is turning heads with Hollywood looks and an electric game

Rickie Fowler has four top 10s this season.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

DUBLIN, Ohio — The future of golf wore lime sherbet Friday. Or maybe it was sea foam, or mint, or hospital green.

While everyone else was clucking over his outfit, Rickie Fowler, 21, painted the scoreboard red, making an eagle and four birdies for a second-round 66 that put him at 13 under par and tied the 36-hole scoring record at the Memorial.

"He might be the best putter I've ever seen," said Shawn Segars, who caddied for Fowler's playing partner Kevin Sutherland as Fowler built a three-shot lead over Justin Rose (69) and a four-shot lead over Tim Petrovic and Jim Furyk.

"I don't know what tees Rickie's playing out there," said Petrovic, who matched Fowler's second-round 66. Jason Day (69) and Jim Furyk (67) are five behind.

Fowler, the most celebrated player in the 2010 rookie class, is aiming for his first Tour victory after close calls at this year's Waste Management Phoenix Open (second place) and the 2009 Open (lost in a playoff).

"Being in contention the few times I have over the last eight months or so since I turned pro, this is by far the best that I've felt," Fowler said. "I just feel really comfortable getting out and seeing my name on top of the leaderboard."

Fowler made news at the Phoenix Open in late February when, just a shot behind Hunter Mahan, he chose to lay up from 231 yards on the par-5 15th hole at TPC Scottsdale. But he's been more aggressive at Muirfield, going six under in a span of five holes Thursday.

He took only 24 putts in round one, and while he hit the ball "a lot better" Friday, he took 30 putts and scored a shot worse. He would be the 10th man in his 20s to win on Tour in 2010.

And yet in some respects that did not matter one bit Friday. Women in their 30s and 40s tried in vain to act casual as they asked, "How old is that Rickie Fowler?" Others pondered whether he looks more like Leonardo DiCaprio, Zach Efron, the Dutch Boy on the paint canor none of the above.

"He's very cute," said Hattie Lamping, an 18-year-old who just graduated high school and followed Fowler hole-by-hole. "Probably not Leonardo DiCaprio; probably more Zach Efron."

Her friend, Samantha Gale, also 18, nodded in agreement.

It should be noted that neither Lamping nor Gale play golf. Asked if they knew Fowler, Gale said with a mischievous smile, "No, but we're planning on knowing him."

Fowler, who has a girlfriend, is playing this week with a new caddie, Donnie Darr, the Ohio State golf coach. It's a one-week gig for Darr, who used to be an assistant at Oklahoma State, where Fowler played for two years before turning pro.

"Our whole team down there wore big belt buckles," Darr said. "But Rickie started it. He's always been a trend-setter."

Fowler has played like the kid Darr remembers from OSU, the coach said, with one exception: "He's more patient."

That patience was evident when Fowler started his round Friday with five straight pars before getting going with an eagle on the par-5 15th hole. It was also evident when he three-putted the par-5 fifth hole for par, then, refusing to wilt, reeled off three straight birdies.

A blonde babe with big bling, straight out of Cougar Town, leaned over the gallery rope as Fowler walked to the eighth tee, having just stuck a wedge to set up his birdie on the par-5 seventh hole.

"Nice putt, Rickie," she said.

"Thanks," he replied, but he never looked up.

Adam Scott, who at 21 was almost exactly where Fowler is now, shot his second straight 70 Friday and said Fowler needs only to keep doing what he's doing and enjoy the ride.

"He's got to just run with it now," Scott said. "Just run with it. He's going to progress naturally, so he needs to not think he's got to try to change things. He should focus when he's on the course and just enjoy the rest of it and not turn it into a headache."

Fowler seems to be universally liked, the American version of the eminently likeable and down-to-earth Rory McIlroy. Many of the other pros, mostly the older ones, kid Fowler about his Dutch Boy haircut, but as he reported after his round, "I got it trimmed last week.

"It's who I am," he added. "I'm dressing how I want."

He wore a white belt in high school, he said, "when the white belt hadn't really come back yet." His flat-brimmed cap is a nod to his motocross roots in Southern California.

"It's a skateboarding thing, too," said Austin Beyke, a young graphic designer who watched Fowler cruise around Muirfield. "Skateboarding is all about the flat-brimmed hat."

Beyke's girlfriend, 22-year-old Brianna Savoca, said: "I played in high school, but I can't imagine being this good, this young. I don't want to say he looks like Zach Efron, because he's a pretty boy. Rickie exudes a more mature attitude than that."

Fowler was inspired, he said, by McIlroy's runaway victory at Quail Hollow last month, when the then 20-year-old from Northern Ireland shot a final-round 62 to nuke all challengers. Ryo Ishikawa, 18, shot 58 to win in Japan the same day.

"I love to see guys like Rory and Ryo and the other young guys playing well," Fowler said. "We can push each other."

Fowler finished his interviews with the broadcast and print media, and then started on the rope line, signing autographs. A kid in a white belt pointed out that they'd worn the same belt, but Fowler had heard enough about his attire for one day.

A friend told Fowler they had reservations for Friday night at Thurman Café, a Columbus institution famous for its monstrous hamburgers. Fowler smiled, all tan, teeth and talent — he was in.

He finished signing and headed up the stairs and over a footbridge toward the player dining room. A man held up his son, who was maybe 5. Fowler signed the back of the boy's shirt and gave him a quick tickle under the arm, and you could hear the sound of women young and old, swooning.


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