Rickie Fowler might be making his Royal Portrush debut this week but his first visit to Northern Ireland came back in 2007

Rickie Fowler at home in Northern Ireland for The Open

There will be more than a few Northern Irish golf fans at Royal Portrush this week who remember the first time Rickie Fowler stepped foot on the links of Ulster, when he made his Walker Cup debut for the United States in 2007.

That week at Royal County Down brought Fowler and Rory McIlroy into competition together for the first time, virtually in McIlroy’s back yard. Fowler was 18 years old and fresh out of high school – the young kid on the U.S. team – whereas McIlroy, although five months younger than Fowler, was already making his amateur swansong before turning professional.

“I was nervous dealing with the big stage and being the young guy on the team,” recalls Fowler, now 30 and an ambassador for Open patron Mercedes-Benz. “But I settled into the situation and played very well.”

Fowler teamed up with Billy Horschel – the 2014 FedExCup winner on the PGA Tour – to defeat McIlroy and Jonathan Caldwell in foursomes, 2 and 1.

“It was on the final day. Billy and I went down early but then we played well and managed to fight back. That week was a lot of fun.

“I knew Rory was the young star and you could see he was a great player, but you just never know what the future will hold. You never know if a player is actually going to fulfil that kind of potential until he goes out and proves it and wins on the biggest stage.

“Ultimately, Rory has not fallen short of the expectations around him, that’s for sure.”

Fowler posted a 3-1 record in that Walker Cup debut as the visitors defeated GB&I but now Fowler’s attention is firmly taken by Ulster’s other famous Royal golf venue.

“Royal Portrush is a great links course,” he says. “For me to win this week I need to drive the ball well. Getting the ball in the proper place off the tee is a big part of this golf course.

“I am not saying it is easy from there but if you drive well then you are not playing your second shots out of the junk.

“I am definitely looking forward to playing in front of the Northern Irish fans again. I returned to Royal County Down a couple years ago when Rory was hosting the Irish Open. They are great golf fans and golf is such a part of life in Northern Ireland. Having a major back here has got everyone excited.”