The PGA Tour might still be stateside, but the attention of the golf world has already largely turned toward Scotland. Next week's Open Championship at Carnoustie is the main event of course, but this week's Scottish Open appetizer at Gullane Golf Links is a pretty tasty warmup.
Luke List leads after a 7-under 63, but Rickie Fowler is tied for second at the event alongside Robert Rock, Jens Dantrop, Scott Fernandez and Lee Westwood. The Oklahoma State product and four-time PGA Tour winner was also the champion of this tournament last time it was at Gullane in 2015 when he birdied the final hole to defeat Matt Kuchar and Raphaël Jacquelin by one.
It's clear Fowler loves links golf given not only his success at events like these, but also his proclivity to play random rounds at some of the coolest courses in the area. He was filmed at North Berwick -- one of the oldest clubs on the planet -- pushing a cart in the lead up to the Scottish Open.
On Thursday, Fowler went out in a tizzy and shot 30 on the front nine that included an eagle on the par-4 6th hole after driving the green, but cooled off a bit on the back with a 34 on that side for the 6-under 64. He was 6 under through 12 holes and flirting with a 59 watch before a bogey at No. 13 and five pars to close out the first day.
"For me, I feel like it's right in front of you," Fowler said of Gullane. "Yeah, there's blind tee shots as far as you can't see the ball land. I feel like here at Gullane, they do a good job of the bunkers or something that you can see that helps frame the hole. So you always have some sort of reference. It's not like you're hitting over a hill and completely blind, not that I'm ever against that.
"I love playing links golf and being able to use your imagination and hit different shots. I feel like this golf course, you go around and you hit pretty much every club in your bag. You hit driver quite a bit. It's just fun. Especially once the wind starts to blow a bit."
Fowler has joined Patrick Reed (-5), Justin Rose (-3), Matt Kuchar (-2) and Phil Mickelson (E) as some of the bigger stars in the field using this week's tournament as pre-Open prep work. Reed actually went out one better than Fowler with a front nine of 29 (!) on Thursday. He shot 36 on the back, though, and sits T7.
"Feel like I hit some quality iron shots in there," Reed said. "Just didn't quite make any putts on the back. But at the same time, it's going to happen. You have a tougher back nine. If I could have made two, maybe three birdies on the back nine it would have been a really good day, but all in all, 5 under after the first round ... a couple back ... we're in good position."
For Fowler, there has been at least a little correlation between this tournament and The Open Championship that follows. In 2014, he finished T8 at this tournament and T2 at The Open. In 2015, he won the Scottish and finished T30 at The Open. Then last year, he finished T9 here and T22 at Royal Birkdale.
"I think it's probably the best prep that you can get, playing competitive golf leading into a major, especially similar style of golf," Fowler said. "I think Carnoustie is probably maybe a little firmer or faster than here right now, but this place could dry out over the weekend.
"I think it's great prep just to be over here, playing on similar ground, feeling how much the wind does affect the ball, whether it's crosswinds, into the wind, downwind, and just getting acclimated and relaxed over here."
Fowler certainly looked relaxed en route to that 64 on Thursday, and if he backs it up on Friday, he could head to the weekend looking for his second Scottish Open trophy in his last three tries and second in a row at Gullane.
"After the win in 2015, having a bar named after me in the clubhouse there, it's cool," Fowler said. "It's definitely a place that we feel very welcome and it's a great golfing area, and Gullane has obviously been great to me."