Thrill ride

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – It’s been a week-long emotional roller coaster ride, but Rickie Fowler, the 19-year-old who just completed his freshman year at Oklahoma State, has handled it like a pro.

Last Saturday, Fowler shot a final-round 73 on the brutal Kampen Course at Purdue’s Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex to tie for fourth at the NCAA Division I Men’s Championship. It completed a rookie college season where he had nine top-8 finishes in 11 starts, including two victories.

He finished first in the Golfstat Cup standings, received the Phil Mickelson Award as the freshman of the year, and was named to the All-Freshman Team and first team All-American.

From West Lafayette, Ind., Fowler and his mom, Lynn, drove to Columbus, Ohio, to play Monday in a 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier. He was exempt from local qualifying as a member of the 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team, which he helped lead to victory.

Fowler was competing against a host of PGA Tour pros who had just completed play in the Memorial for one of 23 spots in the U.S. Open. He was in good shape after an opening 66, but his afternoon 73 left him at 139 and tied with 10 others for the final berths. Sent into a playoff, Fowler played until dark. Play was stopped with Fowler and two others still vying for the final two spots.

Up at 6 a.m. the next morning, Fowler was back on the course only to be the odd man out on the second playoff hole.

His roller coaster ride took a sudden plunge. He had plenty to think about on the drive to Johnstown, Pa., to defend his Sunnehanna Amateur title.

“Needless to say, I was not very happy and it was not a fun drive,” said Fowler, who finished No. 1 this season in the Golfweek/Sagarin Collegiate Rankings and is No. 3 in the Golfweek/Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking. “I was pretty well bummed out. I don’t think my mom enjoyed the company all that much.

“No matter what happened (at U.S. Open qualifying), I knew I had to come back and support the tournament.”

Still down in the dumps early Wednesday as rain pounded the area and caused the pre-tournament events to be called off, Fowler got a text message from a USGA official.

“He told me he had good news and bad news,” Fowler said with a big smile. “I just told him give me whatever. He told me the bad news was he had his scissors ready to give me a haircut. But that the good news was I would be teeing it up next Thursday in the U.S. Open.”

Fowler was first alternate overall and gained his spot when former PGA champion Shaun Micheel withdrew Tuesday.

Fowler will be making his first U.S. Open appearance and playing in his second PGA Tour event. In the spring, he played in the Verizon Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C., where he missed the cut after earning a sponsor exemption as the 2007 Players Amateur champion.

Things continued to go Fowler’s way when the groupings for the first two rounds of the U.S. Open were announced. He is scheduled to play with Chris Kirk and Dustin Johnson, two players he got to know well last summer on the amateur circuit and as teammates on the U.S. Walker Cup team.

Fowler originally wanted to play in the British Amateur this year and in the following week’s Palmer Cup competition among the top college players from the U.S. and Europe.

He’s had to ax the British Am since it begins the Monday after the U.S. Open, but will leave San Diego on June 21 to join his seven other American teammates in hopes of helping the U.S. retain possession of the Palmer Cup.

By Thursday, with the good news of getting into the U.S. Open, Fowler set his mind and golf game on the Sunnehanna Amateur. He opened with a 4-under 66 to share the lead with Michael Foster of Australia and Rory Hie, a first-team All-American as a sophomore last season at USC.

“It’s great knowing I’ll be playing in the U.S. Open next week, but right now I’m just concentrating on this week,” Fowler said. “I’m off to a good start, but there’s three more rounds to go. Sunday night I’ll give the U.S. Open my full attention.”

Only three players in the 55-year history of the Sunnehanna Amateur have won back-to-back titles – Scott Verplank (1984-85), Allen Doyle (1989-90) and Edward Loar (1999-2000).

Joining this group would only bring Fowler’s emotional roller coaster ride to yet another level of excellence.

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