America's poster boy Fowler sparkles on debut to prove Pavin's instincts right
Published 05/10/2010 | 05:00
Trust him to be mistaken by the packs of smitten girls in his wake for Zac Efron, the star of 'High School Musical'. And trust him to find, on the 18th green at his first Ryder Cup, the fearlessness to sink a 15-foot putt that took this match right to the ragged edge.
Corey Pavin defended what had seemed a wacky decision to select Fowler, a young buck barely out of Oklahoma State University, on the basis of "gut instinct". It was a suitable expression for the way the 21-year-old played yesterday, charging back at Edoardo Molinari with four birdies in his last four holes for a half, concluded with a putt of perfect poise in front of hollering team-mates and disbelieving crowds.
Perhaps, to judge from Fowler's record of seven Walker Cup wins in eight, we should have expected him to thrive in the match-play crucible. But no American golfer before him had reached the Ryder Cup side within a year of playing in its amateur equivalent.
So polished was his debut here, and so effusive the public reaction, it proved scant surprise when Pavin said: "Rickie will play in many more Ryder Cup competitions. He's a great kid and he's going to be out here a long time. He played well and as a captain's pick, I thought he would. That's why I picked him."
With a photogenic olive skin colour inherited from his half-Japanese, half-Navajo mother, Fowler could easily have chosen modelling. He has the type of West Coast loucheness, too, that makes many wonder if he might not be more at home on a surfboard.
To the lasting relief of America's PGA, desperately seeking a young icon who neither plays nor talks like an android, he happened to choose golf.
It is seldom that a rookie draws applause from every team member after a defeat, but then this might be defined as the Fowler effect.
Three down to the elder Molinari with three to play, Fowler produced birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th to thwart the Italian, who needed a consoling hug from Ian Poulter as he walked, frazzled, to the 18th tee.
But still the boy from Orange County was not done, launching a fearsome drive down the par-five before laying up, on Pavin's advice, and angling a deft pitch to birdie range. The ensuing putt dived, as if we had dared expect anything else, into the centre of the cup.
Fowler said, nonchalantly: "I picked out a spot and I told myself, 'Just hit a good putt'. What happens, happens. I hit a good one and it went right in the middle." (© Daily Telegraph, London)