Rickie Fowler has accepted his mate Rory McIlroy's invitation to play in the Irish Open at Royal County Down.
The pair formed a bond as amateurs at the Co. Down links when they were on opposing sides in the 2007 Walker Cup, which Fowler’s United States team edged by 12½-11½ in McIlroy’s last appearance before he joined the professional ranks.
Since then, they have gone on to become not only firm friends, but also two of the game’s leading players, with McIlroy having won four Major Championships and Fowler, the current world No9, this year joining Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as only the third player to finish in the top five in all four Majors in a single season.
McIlroy and Fowler, who are both 25, have been widely tipped to form one of golf’s most appealing rivalries over the coming years following their battles down the stretch in The Open and US PGA Championship this summer, and their two matches in The Ryder Cup in September.
Fowler was the first player McIlroy approached to join the field for next year’s Irish Open Hosted by The Rory Foundation.
McIlroy said: "I am delighted that Rickie has decided to add the Irish Open to his schedule next year. I really look forward to him joining me at Royal County Down, one of the world’s finest links courses.
"Rickie’s performances in the Majors and The Ryder Cup this year showed that he is not only one of the top players in the world, but also one of the most watchable. I know the Irish crowds will really take to him and enjoy seeing him in action next May. He was one of the first people I thought of when the Rory Foundation became the official host of the Irish Open, and his presence in the field will only add to tournament’s prestige.
"We have become good friends since we played at Royal County Down in the Walker Cup in 2007, so it will be special for us both to go back there. It would also be great if we could both be in contention towards the end, just like in the Majors this year. I think Rickie’s decision to play also demonstrates the international appeal of Ireland’s top courses and confirms why we are keen for the Irish Open to showcase them.”
Fowler added: "When Rory told me the Irish Open was going to Royal County Down I was really keen to play because of the special memories we have there, and also because it is such a great course. It’s amazing what the players from that Walker Cup have gone on to achieve in the years since we played there, so I’m sure Rory and I will have plenty to reminisce about.
"Rory and I have obviously become good friends I think it is cool what he is trying to do with the Irish Open through the Rory Foundation, so I’m looking forward to being a part of it. It would be neat to think that we could maybe both be battling it out again at Royal County Down next summer, just like we did in the Majors this year."