Rickie Fowler waited for Xander Schauffele to deliver a message

Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele shot matching rounds of 62.

Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele shot matching rounds of 62.

Darren Riehl

LOS ANGELES — Xander Schauffele grinned at Rickie Fowler.

“I kept making birdie. I was like, ‘second still, second still, second still.’ I was like — bastard!”

The two stood behind the interview area, their work all done for the day. Fowler hadn’t been looking at leaderboards. He’d been plowing ahead, making birdie after birdie after birdie, 10 of ’em in all, part of a record-breaking round of eight under par. It wasn’t until the 9th hole, his 18th of the day, that he got a look at who had joined him on the leaderboard.

“I looked over and I saw you were seven under and I was like…oh,” Fowler said.

Schauffele had been chasing him the whole time. The two had opened a gap on the rest of the field — by the end of the morning wave, they’d bettered every other player by five shots — and Schauffele had been keeping tabs on Fowler’s scores.

“I was peeking all day, baby!”

It was a cool scene, the first two 62-shooters in U.S. Open history dapping it up, sharing good vibes. Better yet, it was a scene that showed us about the characters involved. It showed us something about golf, too.

Over the years Rickie Fowler has made it a habit of sticking around to congratulate his buddies as they come off the 18th green on Sunday, celebrating their victory. This has garnered him some measure of praise. But it’s earned him some ridicule, too, particularly as his victory total has plateaued while the victory totals of his well-trophied friends have continued to rise.

If you take a step back, praising a man for congratulating his friends is a sign of cynical brain-rot more than anything else. It’s always been a credit to Fowler that he makes this effort even when his own week has ended in something less than victory. Still, it must have been satisfying for Fowler to wait around this time for a different type of congratulatory scene altogether.

Fowler had teed off at 8:02 a.m. alongside Jason Day and Justin Rose. He birdied his first hole, bogeyed his second, birdied his third and was off. He beat his playing partners by 11 and 14 shots, respectively. After the round he signed his card and went through the media gauntlet and spent 15 minutes signing autographs in an adjacent fan zone. And then he returned to media, where he stood and waited.

Schauffele had started two groups behind him, at 8:24, with Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland. While his margin of victory wasn’t quite as dramatic (Rahm and Hovland each shot 69), Schauffele’s 62 matched Fowler’s total, leaving him the sole owner of the U.S. Open championship record for just 20 minutes. When he finished his final interview, there was Fowler waiting for him with a hug, a word of congratulations and a reminder to keep it going. On Thursdays you can root for all your friends; it’s not ’til the weekend you really have to beat ’em.

The scene (and the score) was a reminder that Fowler’s game is as good as it’s been in years. He’s logged 11 top-20s in his last 15 starts (and just missed one cut in that stretch). He’s climbed from outside the top 150 in the world to No. 45 entering this week. He’s found a new version of an elite iron game and he’s found a new putting stroke that looks awfully good, too. He hasn’t won since 2019 but his return to the top of the podium has felt, in recent months, increasingly inevitable.

The scene was a reminder that Schauffele’s game is among the most consistent on the planet. Sure, the World No. 6 hasn’t won since he ripped off two in a row last summer. But he also hasn’t missed a cut since the 2022 Masters. He’s finished top-20 in the year’s first two majors. He’s contended in basically every U.S. Open he’s ever played. And his game travels anywhere, because he’s good at every aspect of it.

The scene was also a reminder of the simple joys of a good round of golf. No, you likely don’t know the feeling of shooting 62 at a major championship (unless you’re reading this, Branden Grace) but I’m sure you know the high of stringing together 18 holes in a total that exceeds your expectations. There’s a euphoria to the accomplishment and a relief to the fact that you didn’t screw it up. And it you have a buddy that played well, too? That joy is a multiplier.

In his post-round press conference Schauffele was asked about Fowler. The two live near each other now; Schauffele relocated to south Florida earlier this year, which means they’re both California transplants in Jupiter. They’ve gotten to spend more time together as a result.

“Yeah, Rick’s awesome,” Schauffele said. “He’s truly probably one of the nicest guys out here. I mean that when I say it.” (Schauffele is sarcastic often enough that the “truly” and the “I mean that” were both necessary for clarification.)

“I couldn’t be happier for him to see him in good form. Being in Florida a little bit more now, I’ve played some games with him, and he’s just a pleasure to be around. It’s not surprising to see him shoot eight under, either. I’m happy that he’s able get back into good form and can compete at a high level.”

There’s always pressure as the first-round leader to answer big-time questions, about what-ifs, even though the job is just a quarter completed. Fowler recognized that. But he was happy to step outside the moment and think big-picture, too. He recalled dressing up as Fred Couples as a kid. The last decade-plus, kids have been dressing up like him.

“My dream was always just to play on the PGA Tour. Yeah, win, but to play on the PGA Tour, and whatever came with that came with it,” he said.

“Yeah, if you were to tell me as a kid that I’m out here and I’ve won multiple times — yeah, I’d be stoked. But obviously being human and me and being out here, I want more. That’s why we’re still chugging along.”

Chugging right into the history books. In good company, too.

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