Rickie Fowler brings excitement to golf like no other player of his age. During his rookie year on the PGA Tour he played in 35 worldwide events, with 28 of those being on the main tour.
Proving his mettle throughout the 2010 PGA Tour season Fowler rose from a ranking of 249 in the world to 25 at the end of the year. In the process he notched seven top-10’s (including runner-up finishes in Phoenix and the Memorial), won US$2.8 million, was a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup and was named Rookie of the Year. It was colour and movement all the way, yet there is more to come as Fowler sets his sights on 2011 for the Presidents Cup and his first win on the PGA Tour.
“The first year is about getting comfortable, and I just didn’t have much control on how much I played last year. Whereas this year, I will be able to pick and choose my schedule,” said Fowler, who took six weeks off during the new year period and plans to play about 22-25 events in 2011.
“Because I love to play and love being out there, I kept playing. Probably too much. But I learned a lot out there.”
Fowler plays the game in a fearless and aggressive fashion, similar to the colour combos he’s known to stride out in on the course that features a head-to-toe orange get-up for final rounds.
“The coolest part about being a professional golfer is just being a professional golfer,” he says.
“I get to play golf for a living and that’s what I’ve dreamed about since I was 7.”
I first met Fowler back in 2008 as a 19-year-old when he was representing USA at the Eisenhower Trophy in Adelaide. Fowler even then at that time had the element of “cool” about him.
He took out medallist honours for the lowest individual score at the World Amateur finishing at 10-under-par over arguably two of Australia’s hardest layouts, the West Course at The Grange and Royal Adelaide. On the final day at Royal Adelaide it blew like nothing before and those fortunate enough to see a young Fowler in action witnessed an evolving player with a game that had a powerful mix of raw talent, balanced with maturity and poise well beyond his teenage years.
Fowler’s goal had always been to play on the PGA Tour and be competitive. That’s his nature, fearless and with a preparedness to push the boundaries as to where he can take his game. Fowler was the number one ranked US college and amateur golfer when he made the transition to the professional ranks. Future stardom was likely and Fowler was confident his game would evolve to take him to where he wanted to go.
“Playing on the few events that I’ve managed to get on the PGA Tour has seen me had two or so good rounds and I feel that if I can go out there and just play my game, I can do fine,” he said to me at the time, the rest is history.
His obvious talent, coupled with his cool looks, attracted early endorsement deals with Puma and Titleist. In the passage of just two years from our meeting in Adelaide, Fowler would be striding the lush fairways on the PGA Tour, playing in just three Nationwide Tour events in the transition to the world’s biggest and richest tour.
During the journey he learned a lot about the game and himself.
It is commonly said that nothing beats experience, yet combine experience with raw talent and you have a potent explosive mixture that’s bound to ignite when provoked. When the glove is on it ignites Fowler’s juices and he becomes this combination, more so now with twelve months under his belt.
“I won’t have to spend as much of my preparation time getting to know golf courses because I’ve played them now and that will help,” says Fowler.
“Time management is one of the things I’m still trying to perfect as a professional golfer. I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job throughout my career and I am only getting better. Pacing yourself throughout the year helps with staying fresh and playing well when in a tournament. Golf on tour is way more mentally draining than it is physically draining. Time off is key.”
With 20 cuts made from 28 starts during 2010, including the valuable experience of being in contention on Sundays when Fowler lost to Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose in the Waste Management Phoenix Open and Memorial Tournament, respectively, it’s only a matter of time before the maiden title on the PGA Tour falls Fowler’s way.
In the simplest of terms, Fowler has nerve, and it’s strong.
This was evident in last year’s Ryder Cup at the Celtic Manor, where Fowler’s peerless display of grit and determination was inspiring to all.
Four down through 12 holes and 3 down with four to play, Fowler made four consecutive birdies to halve his match with Edoardo Molinari and force the 38th Ryder Cup matches on the shoulders of Hunter Mahan. Fowler knew he had to win the final three holes to earn an important half-point for his country.
Tiger Woods, himself, used the words “incredible” and “impressive” in describing Fowler’s comeback against Molinari. The USA lost, however, when Graeme McDowell beat Mahan in the last match, yet the rush of playing for his nation as a rookie Ryder Cupper is something Fowler will cherish for the rest of his career.
“It was my biggest thrill so far having the opportunity to play on the 2010 Ryder Cup Team,” he says.
“It was awesome, being in the position that I was in with the final match down the stretch is something I will never forget.”
Attitude determines altitude, and in Fowler’s case he’ll keep going till you can’t go when placed in a pressure type situation.
Fowler has always being a clutch player, feeding off the pressure, living in the moment and not in the past. He’s also definitely trade-marked his head-to-toe one-coloured looks, yet he’s not the first to do that either. Much to the dislike of the establishment, Sergio Garcia’s bright yellow banana-esque number at the 2006 at British Open at Hoylake raised a few eyebrows.
Times change and you have to move with the changes and players want to make statements on the course.
It’s fashion of the highest type with plenty of colour and movement. It makes a bold statement and in Fowler’s case it’s the bright orange of his alma mater Oklahoma State come Sunday’s final round. It’s fun to see what wild and crazy styles Fowler will bring out to the course next, it also matches his demeanour on the course, namely oozing of charm and confidence.
Despite the current distractions with his fame and what’s next to come out of the cupboard, Fowler continues to play golf just like he always has – aggressively, passionately and brilliantly.
“I don’t have a 2012 Tour card yet, so that’s a goal of mine this year,” says Fowler who’s currently ranked 30th in the world.
“Next on the list is to work on getting my first PGA Tour win. I want to play in the Tour Championship in Atlanta and I want to play in the Presidents Cup in Australia.”
Australia is a place of fond memories for Fowler. He’s toured down here twice before with success. There was his individual win back in 2008 at the World Amateur in Adelaide and a few months after Fowler narrowly missed claiming the 2009 Master of the Amateurs at Yarra Yarra, when teammate Mark Anderson pipped him for the title after a three-hole play-off.
It would be fitting to watch Fowler stride the Royal Melbourne layout, although team colours will be required to be donned and the orange toe-tappers kept in the locker room. His stellar performance at the Ryder Cup certainly did no harm for Fowler’s consideration for the Presidents Cup team.
Fashion statements aside, Fowler’s clubs have and continue to do the talking and its stirring our curiosity. When the conversation gets to the future of golf, Rickie Fowler has to be included.
Fowler is one of the most recognisable new figures on the PGA Tour. Along with Dustin Johnson, Camilo Villegas and our own Jason Day, Fowler is part of the young guard in golf.
“I try not to think too much about it,” he says about the added attention both with the way he plays and what he wears on the course.
“For me, I’m my own boss and I run my own business. My goals through what I do are to play well, help grow the game and be able to give back. I think between those three things that will help me stay grounded and also ensure that the game remains interesting and unique.”