PINEHURST, N.C. -- Rickie Fowler stood by the edge of the 18th green, hat in hand, smile on his boyish, tanned face. Before congratulating Martin Kaymer, he observed as LPGA player Sandra Gal sprayed water on her German countryman to mark his U.S. Open victory.
Minutes later, Fowler walked arm-in-arm with Erik Compton to the podium for the USGA's awards ceremony. The two were feted as silver medalists, finishing as co-runners-up.
Fowler didn't play like a champion Sunday, carding a 2-over 72. But he certainly acted like one.
"Very proud of him," caddie Joe Skovron said. "It was his first time in the final group (of a major). He hung in and hung in and hung in."
His bid to topple Kaymer all but ended on the 528-yard fourth hole. Fowler's second shot settled in the sandy waste area, and he flew his approach over the green, between some trees.
"He had a really tough lie," Skovron said. "It was sitting up so high in that sand, and if he got under it, it could have ended up right in front of him."
He managed to drain a 20-foot putt, but the double bogey buried his hopes of a first major championship.
Fowler said he felt "very happy" about the week. He survived the sinister U.S. Open greens that NBC analyst Johnny Miller called "over-the-top."
"When I was inside the ropes, it didn't feel like the U.S. Open to me," Fowler said. "I felt that comfortable."
His week started with a tribute to the late Payne Stewart, a Thursday outfit of knickers and argyle socks to memorialize a man he called "one of my all-time favorites."
The fact Fowler was just 10 when Stewart won the 1999 Open at Pinehurst showed his devotion to golf history.
Fowler on Sunday went with his signature all-orange get-up, which some say makes him look like a Creamsicle or a Cheeto.
Whatever the case, most fans love it. Several young ones appeared at Pinehurst in head-to-toe orange garb.
Compton wore black pants and a red shirt, a Sunday combination once reserved for Tiger Woods. Compton explained they were "Georgia colors" -- a shoutout to his alma mater.
As Compton walked past Fowler on the practice range Sunday, the two bumped fists with a hammer motion. It was a nice show of support from the friends and fellow Americans.
Compton said after he got his second heart transplant in 2008, Fowler invited him to play at The Bear's Club in Florida.
"And when I drove up and saw him," Compton recalled, "he was a celebrity in my eyes."
With Woods recovering from back surgery and Phil Mickelson sputtering, American golf fans are dying for Fowler, 25, to reach superstardom. His only PGA Tour victory came at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship.
As Fowler waited to attack the third green with his drive Sunday, a fan shouted, "Sixty-five, Rickie, come on!"
He missed that score by seven, but he's getting there. His last four U.S. Open finishes go like this: missed cut, T-41, T-10, T-2. His last two at the Masters: T-38, T-5.
"You can't get ahead of yourself; you have to stay patient," Fowler said of winning a major.
And then he added boldly: "It's going to happen."
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