ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Rickie Fowler, making his Middle East debut at the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship this week, expects more Americans to expand their horizons and compete abroad.
The 26-year-old, still waiting for his first major after several near misses, carded an opening round 67 on Thursday as he clearly found the course to his liking.
Fowler is also set to play the Scottish and Irish Opens this year as he prepares for another crack at the British Open, having pushed Rory McIlroy close at Royal Liverpool last year, eventually finishing runner-up to the Northern Irishman.
His love of links golf has endeared Fowler to British crowds but many established U.S. players prefer their lucrative domestic circuit, showing little desire to play elsewhere.
A new generation of American golfers seem keener to try their luck abroad, however.
“With a lot of the top players in the world being young guys, we’re excited to travel,” Fowler told reporters.
“You usually get a couple free days in the week and it’s fun to see new places. I enjoy different cultures, eating different food. You have to be open minded when you’re traveling the world.”
The last two winners of Europe’s Rookie of the Year award have been Americans – Brooks Koepka in 2014 and Peter Uihlein in 2013.
Koepka has opted to join the main American PGA Tour this year, but Uihlein is again on the European circuit and also carded a 67 in Abu Dhabi.
“Brooks and Pete went an unorthodox way,” said Fowler. “I’m not saying it’s easier to come over here by any means, but it’s done a lot for Pete and Brooks as far as going to places you’ve never been before - you’re learning about yourself, your golf game and growing up.”
Fowler made par in his opening five holes on Abu Dhabi’s National course, before sinking six birdies in 11 holes to surge up the leaderboard. A final-hole bogey was the only negative.
“I made some good pars, but didn’t quite feel comfortable out there until I made a couple birdies to (the) turn and got things going on the back nine,” said Fowler, who was paired with his friend, world number one McIlroy.
“I can’t get rid of him, that’s the hard part,” joked Fowler. “He’s the best player in the world, so if I’m hanging around him I’m doing the right thing.”
McIlroy also carded a five-under 67.
Reporting by Matt Smith; editing by Martyn Herman