DETROIT, Mich. – Rickie Fowler does a lot on the golf course that the everyday person can’t relate to.
But on Thursday, as he tried to close out his first round at the 2023 Rocket Mortgage Classic, he was in the most familiar positions.
“I mean, to be honest, I had to go to the bathroom pretty bad,” Fowler said, explaining part of the reason he had his two closing bogeys to end an otherwise stellar performance. “Luckily, I just got the drug tested so I went straight (there). There weren’t a lot of bathrooms the last five holes, so I was a little shaken coming in, and not necessarily blaming the finish on it, but that didn’t help..”
ROCKET MORTGAGE CLASSIC 2023:How to watch the first round at Detroit Golf Club
Fortunately for Fowler, he had been red-hot before his toilet needs. The fan favorite made eight birdies and just one bogey in his first 16 holes; add it all up and he finished 5-over 67.
It was tied for fifth when he went off the course, good enough to put him near the top of the rankings entering Friday.
“A solid day, a lot of good stuff,” Fowler said. “Get off to a good start and that’s really all you hope for on a Thursday to start a tournament is to get off to a good start.”
It’s the exact opposite of what Fowler did the last time he was in Detroit. It was a quick trip in 2022 as the Rocket Mortgage-sponsored athlete fired a 1-over 73, then a 2-over 74 to miss the cut for the first time in his four appearances at the tournament.
But that was then, this is now, and a once-lost Fowler has clearly found his groove again.
Three weeks ago in Los Angeles, an Oklahoma State graduate set a US Open record with an 8-under 62 in the opening round. He was tied for the lead (he hadn’t even qualified for the tournament since 2020) heading into Sunday and finished T-5.
It was his third straight Top 10 – he placed T-9 at the Memorial and T-6 at the Charles Schwab Challenge the week before.
Although Fowler has no wins this season, the former world No. 4 back in 2016 has seven Top 10s and 14 Top-25 finishes in 19 starts. By comparison, he had four Top 10s and 14 Top-25s in the previous three years combined.
“I mean, it’s a lot different,” Fowler said of his feel for the game between now and the last time he was in the 313. “Just the confidence and the confidence and knowing what I’m capable of and what I have done, and the consistency and that kind of being able to build momentum.
“That was something I definitely didn’t have the last few years.”
On Thursday, Fowler rolled in a 12-foot birdie to start his day, but gave up the putt on the par-3 11th when he couldn’t get up-and-down from the green-side bunker.
TUNE IN:Rocket Mortgage Classic 2023: How to watch the first round at Detroit Golf Club
After consecutive pars, Fowler began his best stretch of the day – seven birdies in the next 12 holes to take a share of the late-morning lead. He holed a 3-foot birdie on No. 14, then made a sliding five-footer on No. 16 and a four-footer on the par-5 17th to make the turn at 3-under.
He chipped a wedge to seven feet for birdie on No. 1, then did the same on the short par-four third, draining an 11-footer for another stroke. When his tee shot on the par-5 fourth found the rough, Fowler was forced to lay up, but he put his approach to 10 feet and rolled home the birdie.
His final birdie of the day came on the par-5 seventh; he birdied all five of the longest holes of the day.
“Keep it pretty simple, like one or two things that you focus on swing-wise,” Fowler said of adjustments. “It’s more about going out there, hitting shots and playing the game.”
Morikawa’s Secret Fix
Fowler wasn’t the only golfer Thursday to be vague about his latest adjustments.
Collin Morikawa, the five-time PGA Tour winner and two-time major champion, has struggled in 2023 but got his first Rocket Mortgage started on the right foot Thursday when he fired a 6-under 66.
“I probably found the most important thing yesterday afternoon after my pro-am,” Morikawa said. “The good shots are good, so it’s hard because like I can hit five, 10 balls on the court, look good, and then you put it on the court and that’s where shots matter. It was kind of nice to find yesterday and kindly work from there.”
Great to hear, Collin. What did you find?
“I won’t tell you,” he said. “So…”
Oh. It’s too bad. Why?
“Well, because it’s still a work in progress,” he said. “I think to myself the swing thoughts and just basic stuff, like it’s nothing, it’s nothing complicated at all. Like it’s the least complicated thing. It affects a lot, how about that?”
It’s a don’t talk about it, be about it approach for Morikawa. It’s been a tough year for the 26-year-old, with no wins and just four top 10s in 19 events (he had eight in 19 events last season).
He held serve with three opening pars before getting his scoring going when he dropped a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 13, the start of a nine-hole stretch in which he had six birdies.
He rolled the ball well with the flat club, making a 16-foot putt on No. 14 and a 12-footer on No. 16 to drop the move to three-under, but the loudest roar of the day from his followers came on No. 18 .
“What’s great is that I didn’t feel like I played phenomenal today and put together six birdies,” he said. “We didn’t really have a lot of tough stretches or have to make a lot of par saves out there, so that’s what you want, you want to keep giving yourself birdie opportunities, especially on this golf course where 25, 30-under can win.”
He was a perfect 5-for-5 in scrambling situations on the day.
Morikawa made birdies on No. 1 and No. 3 and then had six straight pars. None of the advanced tracks jumped off the page. Late in the day Thursday, Morikawa was ranked No. 8 in strokes gained, No. 11 in strokes gained around the green and No. 17 in driving accuracy.
There was a small smile as Morikawa left his news conference Thursday before signing autographs for the crowd of fans waiting in front of Detroit Golf Club’s clubhouse. Almost as if there is a secret.
“It feels great just to be in control of the golf ball,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing about knowing where the golf ball is going to go, even on the misses and just swinging free. We were kind of able to do that today.
“It was a little late yesterday adjusting a few things, but we were glad we got it figured out.”
Local news and notes
- Jackson native Brian Stuard fired a 2-over 74. He started on No. 10 and after a bogey on No. 12, the Jackson native picked up the slack on No. 14 when he nearly holed out from 109 yards and tapped in from 14 inches. After moving to 1-under with a 17-foot birdie on No. 16, he bogeyed No. 18 to make even par. Stuard birdied No. 1 and then closed with bogeys on three of his last four holes.
- Former Michigan State golfer Ryan Brehm carded a 2-under 70 to start his tournament. He bogeyed his first hole (No. 10) and then got it back on the par-5 14th. Brehm would add birdies on Nos. 3, 5 and 7 before a bogey on No. 8 ended his scoring.