Rickie Fowler had two particularly strong reasons for wanting to qualify for The 151st Open.
A return to Royal Liverpool was a significant motivation, after he finished joint-second behind Rory McIlroy on the previous occasion The Open was held in Hoylake nine years ago.
Fowler was also stung by missing out on The 150th Open at the Old Course last July – the first time he had missed the Championship since his debut in 2010.
“That was a bummer to miss St. Andrews last year for sure, I love that place,” Fowler said.
Happily for the Californian, he has enjoyed a return to form in 2023 and by virtue of making the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings on 29 May, the 34-year-old booked his return to The Open.
It's been quite the year for Fowler, who jumped from 185th to 21st in the Official World Golf Rankings, nearly won the US Open in June and then claimed his first title since 2019 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Ahead of his 12th appearance in golf’s original Championship, Fowler spent some time reflecting on what he enjoys so much about Royal Liverpool and his experience there in 2014.
“Hoylake is a past Open where I had a very good week in 2014,” he said. “We were trying to chase down Rory. He never really gave us a chance of it but it's a place that I've had good success at and it’s awesome to get back to a place where I've played well and had such a good finish in a major.”
A tie for second with Sergio Garcia represented Fowler’s best performance in a major, during an impressive year that saw him record top-5 finishes at The Masters, US Open, Open and PGA Championship.
The final round also marked the first time he played in the final group of a major. On the big stage of an Open and playing with Rory, what did that feel like for the then-25-year-old?
Fowler said: “It was obviously a different position for me. But playing alongside Rory, someone who we're basically the same age and we had played quite a bit together at that point, so to have some of that familiarity was nice.
“It might have been a different feeling had I been in a situation where it was first time in a final group with Tiger or something like that. I'm not saying that Rory doesn't hold a presence, he's obviously earned that now. I feel like it was a very comfortable pairing and we definitely had a good time. He obviously played so well.”
McIlroy’s final-round one-under 71 ultimately sealed a two-shot win over Garcia and Fowler.
However, although he fell short of claiming the Claret Jug, the young American could be proud of his efforts in shooting 67 on the final day.
Asked what he took from that close call, Fowler said: “I think what I learned is you don't have to do anything special. What Rory did so well that day is he didn't really make too many mistakes. That's for the most part, every day out here, but especially important in final rounds.
“During those rounds you have to stay within yourself and make sure you are more intentional with your decisions. It might feel like you're walking a little bit slower and going through things a little bit slower. Sometimes you can get going a bit quick in the moment, and you want to avoid that.”
To Fowler’s credit, he looked relaxed for most of the day, often smiling with his caddie and being quite friendly and loose with McIlroy on the first tee. The six-shot margin was too much to overcome, but a bogey-free final round was nevertheless impressive.
After a number of strong performances this year, Fowler will head back to Hoylake with renewed confidence.
He is aware of significant alterations to the course since he was last there in 2014, not least the creation of a new par-3 17th hole.
“It’ll be interesting to see the changes. I do remember it gives you a lot of options off the tee but in links golf - especially there at Hoylake - it's about getting the ball in play and staying out of trouble.
“You've got to avoid the pot bunkers. I remember there being a good variety of tee shots from hitting irons off of tees to hitting 3-wood and driver as well. It's much more a course that's about being in position and trying to avoid pot bunkers as much as possible and trying to keep it in the short stuff so you can keep moving forward on the board,” Fowler said.
Fowler was in strong form coming in to The Open in 2014 as he had just tied for second in the US Open the previous month.
When asked what worked so well for him at Royal Liverpool, the American had a clear recall of what worked.
“I think a lot of it was I had a great gameplan, I was hitting it well and it just came down to executing,” Fowler said.
“I was putting it well. I did a really good job around the greens and I kept it fairly simple in a way. You don't have to go out and overpower that course and hit drivers everywhere, so I was just able to stick to that gameplan that I had and I did a good job of executing because there are plenty of holes where you can kind of push it and hit more club, and I didn’t try to do too much.”
Fowler is a feel player and that type of game and the creativity that comes with it translates well to links golf. It is no wonder, therefore, that links is one of his favourite styles of play.
“I just like the creativity and the amount of options that you have and the different shots you can hit,” Fowler said.
“Very rarely is there a shot that you're up against that there's only one way to play it. There's usually anywhere from two to ten different ways to play it.
“You can play the ball in the air, on the ground, ride the wind, hold it against it. I feel like it kind of brings out the creative side and being able to see different shots and it's fun when you visualise something and you actually hit it and it plays out how you thought it was going to.”
Fowler’s shots of late have certainly been playing out quite well as he waits with anticipation like all of us for The 151st Open.
Garrett Johnston is a Washington, DC-based golf journalist who’s covered 40 major championships over 13 years in golf journalism. The Open Championships at St Andrews in 2015 and 2022 remain two of his biggest golf highlights. He also hosts the Beyond the Clubhouse Podcast with various players, caddies, and broadcasters from the world of golf. Twitter: @JohnstonGarrett