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As a Tour winner, new challenges await Fowler

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By Zak Kozuchowski

GolfWRX Managing Editor

Rickie Fowler has never shunned the spotlight.

The immensely talented 23-year-old has caught the attention of golf fans since he turned pro in 2009. And it’s not just his long hair, bright-colored clothing and signature flat-brimmed hat that have made him a focus of American golf. Fowler has proven that he has the game to become one of America’s premier players.

He earned PGA Tour Rookie of the Year honors in 2010, capping off the year with an impressive Ryder Cup showing that included four consecutive birdies to halve a match with Eduardo Molinari. He gave himself multiple chances to win golf tournaments that year, finishing second at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Memorial Tournament.

We waited for Fowler to take the next step in 2011, to finally claim his first PGA Tour title. He impressed us with a fifth-place finish at the British Open and a second-place finish at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and finally broke through for a non-PGA Tour win at the Kolon Korea Open. But despite finishing 43rd in the FedExCup in 2011, many people began to question Fowler’s skills. Why was it taking so long for him to win on the big stage?

Fowler’s playoff victory last week at the Wells Fargo Championship was proof that Fowler is the player that golf fans wanted him to be – a certification of his talents that was aided by the fact that it was a head-to-head victory over the young player that many have called to heir to Tiger Woods’ throne, Rory McIlroy.

After the win, congratulations poured out to Fowler on Twitter. The immediacy of praise for both Fowler’s game and nature puts him in a unique position as he moves forward with his career. The fans like him. The players respect him. Golf writers write nice things about him. He finally has a PGA Tour win under his bright-colored Puma belt. What could possibly go wrong.

When Fowler tees off Thursday at The Players Championship, he will enter a new level of media scrutiny. His threesome includes fellow “Golf Boy” and friend Hunter Mahan, but also the most polarizing player on the planet, Tiger Woods.

During Tuesday’s press conference, Fowler was asked how he felt about playing with a new category of players, such as Woods, based on his status as a PGA Tour winner.

“I don’t know if Tiger and I have played together in a tournament round,” Fowler said. “I’ve obviously been around him quite a bit with Ryder Cup, played a practice round with him there. Been a lot around him at Medalist, practicing, playing … We enjoy each other, and I enjoy practicing with him and being around him.”

Regardless of how much time Fowler has spent with Woods, Fowler’s status as a media darling likely makes it tough for him to understand the pressures that Woods faces each week as the face of American golf. For most players, winning on the PGA Tour is a relief – it buys some time from media scrutiny, and makes the future bad rounds easier to stomach. But for Woods, particularly in the pre-scandal period, each major victory seemed to add more pressure for him to keep winning.

Golf fans aren’t asking Fowler to become the next Woods and chase major championship records, but they are hoping that he continues to win. Already, many are saying that they can see Fowler rattling off a few wins in a row. It’s funny that just a few months before some of the same voices were saying that Fowler was overrated as a golfer.

There will be a push to create a rivalry between Fowler and McIlroy, also 23, who has three victories on Tour, including a major championship, the 2011 U.S. Open. But I think it’s still a little too soon to push that rivalry. McIlroy is first in four statistical categories, including birdie average, scoring average, all-around ranking and par breakers. He is also third in sand save percentage, FedExCup points and the money list. Fowler is only in the top 5 in one category, total driving. He is 15th in FedExCup points and 11th on the money list.

In McIlroy’s press conference, he was asked about his relationship with Fowler, which started while the two were competing as amateurs.

“I developed a really good relationship with him at the Walker Cup in 2007,” McIlroy said. “I felt like he was the best player on that team at the time, and he was also the nicest guy.”

That’s the key for me – for Fowler to continue to be the person that the fans, players and media have raved about. As much as I want Fowler to rise to the top of the Tour, it’s more important that he continues to radiate his orange-tinted positivity energy. And if you believe in karma, the wins should come. Probably not at the same pace as McIlroy, but they will come.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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Zak is the Editor-in-Chief of GolfWRX.com. He's been a part of the company since 2011, when he was hired to lead GolfWRX's Editorial Department. Zak developed GolfWRX's Featured Writer Program, which supports aspiring writers and golf industry professionals. He played college golf at the University of Richmond (Go Spiders!) and still likes to compete in tournaments. You can follow Zak on Twitter @ZakKoz, where he's happy to discuss his game and all the cool stuff that's part of his job.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Nate

    May 11, 2012 at 1:58 am

    So, if you are saying the wins will come…but not at the same pace as McIlroy…and you draw the line between karma, being a good guy, etc. and winning…are you intimating that Rory is not as good a person as Rickie?

  2. Pingback: As a Tour winner, new challenges await Fowler | Augusta Blog

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Tour News

5 things we learned on Sunday of the 2018 U.S. Open

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Opportunity knocked for so many golfers, yet it was the 2017 champion who seized the moment when it was his. Brooks Koepka fired his second sub-par round of the week on Sunday to separate from playing partner Dustin Johnson, and enter the pantheon of multiple major champions. He became the 7th player to defend his title, joining old-school legends like Willie Anderson and John McDermott, mid-century icons like Ralph Guldahl and Ben Hogan, and the last man to accomplish the feat, Curtis Strange. With that introduction, let’s move to the main event, the 5 things we learned on Sunday at Shinnecock Hills.

5) The USGA gave golf a chance

True to its word, the USGA pulled out all the stops in the wee hours of Sunday morn. The course set-up team ensured that enough water was distributed to putting surfaces, that worthy shots would not be punished. Hole locations were assessed and confirmed, also ensuring that multiple opportunities for success were available. As a result, 15 golfers turned in scores under par of 70, highlighted by Tommy Fleetwood’s 7-under stunner. Although many fans, writers and players were quick to assault the organizers for losing control of the course, the USGA reminded us that it always had control of the conditions at Shinny, and that its only mistake was to soar too close to the sun.

4) Captain America ran out of gas

If Patrick Reed had been able to sign his card on the 9th tee, when he stood 5-under on the day and 1-over for the tournament, he would be in a playoff with the eventual champion as I type. Unfortunate for this year’s Masters champion was that 10 holes remained. Reed promptly bogeyed the 9th, added 3 more bogeys on the inward half, and summoned just one birdie toward the end. His fourth-place finish was his best in a U.S. Open, but knowing that victory was in the cards will sting for a while.

3) DJ and Finau gave it a run

Where to begin? How about this: DJ had four bogeys on Sunday. He totaled that many on Thursday-Friday combined. He had birdies, too, but couldn’t find the game that possessed him over the opening 36 holes. Oddly enough, this type of experience won’t be a setback for the 2016 champion. After all, he came back from a career-killer in 2015, when he 3-whacked his way out of a playoff with Jordan Spieth at Chambers Bay. As for Milton Pouhau Finau, aka Tony, the Utah native had never before been in the final group on any day of a major professional championship. He acquitted himself well, standing even on the day and 3-over for T2 at the 18th tee. Knowing that he needed eagle for a playoff might have taken the final winds from his sails, and he limped home with double bogey and solo third. Looking ahead to the final August playing of the PGA Championship, Bellerive near St. Louis might just be his type of course.

2) Tom Terrific nearly made his own U.S. Open history

I’ll write this cautiously, as I’m certain I would have intimated in the 1980s and 90s that Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood would have been major champions by now. Tommy Fleetwood ought to win one of these things soon. His record-tying 63 was a short putt away from a record-breaking 62. Eight birdies against a single bogey was the stuff of legend, and if only he had trusted that final putt a bit higher on the break … that’s not fair. Fleetwood right now is the fellow to watch at Carnoustie next month. Bet a few quid or bob or whatever on the Southport native, as he should contend for the title.

1) Brooks cooks up a winning broth

It’s easy to look back and see all the great shots that the defending champion hit over the four days of the 2018 U.S. Open, shots that would win him his second consecutive trophy. Remember that 60-feet bomb to save par on Saturday? Shades of Costantino Rocca. How about the approach shots to within mere feet that earned him 5 birdies on Sunday, including a competition-killer on 16? Koepka was the guy we thought Dustin Johnson would be. Perhaps it was the time off for wrist rehabilitation early this season that gave him the burning desire to win. Out for nearly 4 months, Koepka had plenty of time to ponder what he achieved last June in Wisconsin, and what might lay ahead for him. The begged question is, does the most recent, two-time major winner have the game to acquire more of the game’s cherished trophies?

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

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Wednesday’s Photos from the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills

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GolfWRX is live from the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (par 70; 7,440 yards) in Southhampton, New York. The U.S. Open returns to Shinnecock for the first time since 2004 when Retief Goosen won (he failed to qualify for the 2018 event).

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Phil Mickelson, who has two top-5 finishes at Shinnecock Hills, will seek to fill out his career Grand Slam with a win this week. Also, it’s Tiger Woods’ 10-year anniversary of winning the legendary 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines — that was his most recent major championship victory.

Also in the field are headliners Dustin Johnson (now ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings), Justin Thomas (No. 2), Justin Rose (No. 3), Jon Rahm (No. 4) and Jordan Spieth (No. 5).

Brooks Koepka (No. 9) is the defending champion; he won last year by four shots for his first and only major so far in his career.

Check out our photos from Shinnecock Hills below!

Wednesday’s Galleries

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Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums

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Spotted at Shinnecock: #RVLife, superb staff bags, stellar stampings

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We’re on the famed grounds of Shinnecock Hills Golf Club for the second major of the year. With the U.S. Open returned to such a visually and historically rich venue, it may be a bit tough to focus on equipment.

Nevertheless, we spotted some cool stuff, Tuesday, as the players move ever closer to the second major of th eyear.

Let’s get to the photos.

#RVLife propronent, Jason Day’s putter cover is incredible.

Michael Greller displays an essential caddie skill…

Face of Tiger’s wedge. Do these look like standard TaylorMade MG grooves to you?

Greatest side panel on a bag ever?

Who isn’t happy to see “Woods” on USGA tournament signage?

Shintaro Ban’s unique dot stamping is, well, money.

A look at the Bridgestone U.S. Open staff bag and headcovers.

Kenny Perry: Still gaming R7 irons.

Scott Gregory with some solid wedge stamping.

What is this lead taped and war torn beauty?

All our photos from Tuesday

Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums

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