Rickie Fowler mysteriously benched for third-straight Ryder Cup session

With the U.S. in a stunning 9.5-2.5 hole through three Ryder Cup sessions at Marco Simone, there is much blame to go around. Brooks Koepka ran his mouth late Friday and then got historically waxed early Saturday. Jordan Spieth has looked lost. U.S. captain Zach Johnson has made some questionable pairings.

One guy at whom it’s hard to point much of a finger: Rickie Fowler. When Johnson announced his Saturday-afternoon fourball pairings, Fowler’s name was absent — again. For the third-straight session, Fowler, who hasn’t missed a cut since May, was benched, making him the only player on either side not to play on Day 2.

What gives?

On Friday evening, Johnson revealed that an illness — some sort of bug — had infected his team.

“It’s kind of passed around a little bit, caddies, players,” he said. “It is what it is. But it’s nothing more than that. Guys are fighting and playing regardless.”

When asked whether he sat Fowler in the morning session because he wasn’t feeling well, Johnson said: “I’m not going to get specific on individual guys. I don’t think that’s fair. I think it’s irresponsible to say who is playing for what reason and who is not for what reason. I mean, I’m not — to say that all — you know, I’m not going to get into that.”

On Saturday morning, Golf Channel’s Steve Sands, who had spoken with Johnson, reported that Fowler’s benching was “not a health issue,” it was “a captain’s decision.”

“He’ll be ready to go for the Sunday singles,” Johnson told Sands.

Fowler played in the opening session Friday alongside Collin Morikawa, falling 2 and 1 to Shane Lowry and Sepp Straka. If he was unwell during that match, it was not obvious. “We just got off to a bit of a slow start,” he said afterward. “And we struggled to kind of get some momentum going our way. … We just put ourselves in a little bit too big of a hole to come back.”

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Fowler’s revitalized game was a big story in 2023, led by his inspired play at the U.S. Open, where he tied for fifth, and a win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, in Detroit, his first title in more than four years. He also has been one of the steadiest players on Tour, with 16 top-20s this season. An exceptional iron player and reliable putter with an easygoing personality, Fowler figured to be a suitable partner this week for just about any of his teammates. Given this is his fifth Ryder Cup, he also has experience under fire.

Of playing in the Ryder Cup, Fowler said earlier in the week: “For me, it’s just continuing to feel more comfortable being a part of them versus definitely the first one or the first couple where you’re amped up or nervous. There will still be nerves out there, but it’s not a new situation.”

Fowler also was asked one of the deeper questions of the pre-match pressers: What lessons, if any, has he learned from Rome’s rich history?

“I think one of the things probably to take from the Roman Empire or kind of the history over here is patience, understanding what it took for them to build things back then,” he said. “It’s hard to wrap your head around it when you look at really anything, but walking by the Pantheon and seeing how small the bricks are that ultimately make up that structure, it’s not like those bricks were being printed out at a factory down the street. Everything is handmade. I think a big thing with that is kind of seeing the big picture and having the patience to understand what it takes to get from start to finish.”

If he and his teammates are somehow going to pull off a Miracle at Marco Simone, they’ll need more than patience. It’s time to start playing.

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