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Why it’s still too early to judge Rickie Fowler for his lack of wins

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Bryson DeChambeau is basking in his victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, a win which saw him rise to fifth in the official world golf rankings. Amongst the praise DeChambeau has received, a post on social media last from Golf Channel’s Will Gray brought to attention the 25-year-old’s incredible run of form — while also highlighting Rickie Fowler’s lack of wins on the PGA Tour.

Once golf’s golden boy, Fowler has failed to claim a victory on the PGA Tour in over 18 months, and as the Californian approaches his 30th birthday, there is a sense that people are beginning to lose faith in Fowler.

Fowler ended his week in Vegas with an excellent round of eight-under par which saw him claim a T4 finish, and the American has now recorded five successive top-20 finishes on the PGA Tour dating back to early August. However, rightly or wrongly, Fowler has been labelled as a man who can’t close out tournaments. While previously there was a monkey on his back in regards to major championships, his winless streak stretching back to the 2017 Honda Classic has now brought to everyone’s attention his lack of overall victories.

The post from Gray took me back to a Cobra commercial that aired three years ago which involved Rickie Fowler and Greg Norman discussing their desire to “be the best.”

Just like Fowler, Norman is considered an underachiever in the game. You probably don’t need to be reminded about Norman’s major tally of two, regarded as a severely disappointing return for a man of his talent. But his total of 20 PGA Tour victories combined with his 331 weeks sitting atop the world golf rankings is enough to show that the Australian had an illustrious career.

Before Norman’s 30th birthday, the Australian had yet to capture a major championship. The current world number one, Justin Rose, has nine victories on the PGA Tour, but only broke through to win his first when he was 29, and his only major success so far came at the age of 32. While Phil Mickelson’s first of his five major triumphs also arrived at the age of 33.

For Fowler, he has plenty of time to change the narrative of his career. Amongst the new generation of prodigious young winners such as Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and now Bryson DeChambeau, the likes of Norman, Mickelson and Rose prove that there is still the opportunity for late bloomers to go down as golfing greats.

The growing negative judgement that has begun to wrap itself around Fowler may be the American’s biggest hurdle to overcome. It wasn’t that long ago that Dustin Johnson was being branded as a major championship choke artist by some, before he changed the narrative with a brilliant display at Oakmont to win his maiden major title.

Fowler has far less scar tissue to deal with than Johnson did, particularly at major championships. While it’s convenient for some to conclude that as he approaches his 30th year he has failed to live up to both the hype and promise that was displayed when he first broke onto the Tour, history suggests that the Californian still has plenty of time to create his legacy in the sport.

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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. sam

    Nov 8, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    Fowler — nice person, treat people with respoect, loves his family, loved by the fans and media, rich, beautiful loving fiance. He is about as big a winner as you can have in my book.

  2. Gianni = Bum Blaster?

    Nov 7, 2018 at 6:00 am

    Or is he a que er with a fat girlfriend?

  3. Greg V

    Nov 6, 2018 at 8:18 am

    Gianni,

    I think that you are grasping at straws here. Greg Norman didn’t play against a field as deep with talent as Rickie faces week in and week out. Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas and yes, Bryson DeChambeau are some of the reasons that Rickie will have a tough time winning more than one major, if he wins that.

    • Don7936

      Nov 6, 2018 at 11:36 pm

      Lame article…Fowler is eminently more successful in his profession than the “writer” of this snarky article is.

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Podcasts

On Spec: Swing weight is overrated

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A deep dive into one of the most talked about but truly misunderstood aspects of club building: swing weight. What it really means, and why it isn’t the end all be all for a set of clubs.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Bethpage Black

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Bethpage’s Black course was designed by A.W. Tillinghast and opened for play in 1936. It was immediately considered one of the best tests of golf in the world, and it has tested golfers coming from all over the world in its 83-year history. Bethpage State Park itself has five courses. The Green was the first course built and was originally called Lennox Hills Country Club. In the early 1930s, the Bethpage Park Authority purchased Lennox Hills CC and other adjacent property and turned the whole thing into what is now known as Bethpage State Park. Course architect A.W. Tillinghast was hired to remodel what would become the Green course as well as build the Blue, Red, and finally the Black. The Yellow Course was designed by Alfred Tull and opened in 1958.

Bethpage first hosted a major championship in 2002 when it hosted the U.S, Open. What is somewhat forgotten 17 years later as it hosts its third major, is how much the course had fallen into disrepair by the mid-1990s. Luckily, the USGA could see through all of that and helped fund a complete restoration that was overseen personally by Dave Catalano, the larger than life (in both stature and personality) head of Bethpage State Park. Dave had been working at Bethpage since he was a kid in 1967, picking up papers in the picnic area. It was his baby, and with Rees Jones by his side, they painstakingly restored the Black to its former greatness and into a true championship test of golf. After the PGA Championship, the Black will be back in the spotlight 2024 as host of the Ryder Cup, joining a very short list of courses to host a U.S. Open, a PGA Championship, and a Ryder Cup.

Playing the Black is one of the most unique experiences in the game because of what it takes to get a tee time. There are a very limited number of tee times. They are easier to get if you are a NY resident, but for most of us, it’s first come, first serve. Which in practical terms means they have a parking lot with numbered spaces and people start showing up the day before to sleep in their cars to play. In fact, I can proudly say that the last three times I slept in my car it was just to play at Bethpage. One of those times I didn’t even get out on the Black and had to settle for playing the Red! Should have eaten dinner in the car I guess….

Every time I have slept in the car I have had a great time. It’s a party in the lot with a bunch of golfers hanging out all excited to play the next day. There’s usually a few beers around and one of the times, someone called a cab and went and got 50 cheeseburgers from McDonald’s at 1 a.m. to show us all some top-notch NY hospitality! That’s definitely not an experience you will have going to play any other top courses!

Once you finally do get to sleep, the staff wakes you up around 4 a.m. to go get in line and get your tee time and course assignment. Then you can go back to sleep or go eat breakfast or hit balls or whatever you want until it’s your turn to tee off. On your way to the tee, you see the famous WARNING sign telling you that the Black Course is an extremely difficult course which they recommend only for highly skilled golfers. Hopefully, you didn’t lose your tee ticket because you will need that to get onto the tee and trust me, they aren’t messing around with the rules!

The golf course itself sits on a huge, sprawling, fantastic piece of land with abundant elevation change and lots of random contours. The bunkering is big and bold and not to be messed with. There is abundant long fescue and numerous trees off to the sides of the holes which combined with the beautiful bunkering makes for a very beautiful setting.

The first hole is a downhill, almost 90-degree dogleg right. The fairway is pretty flat and so is the well-bunkered green. The key for the player is to put their drive into the right place in the fairway to get a good angle to the hole location. From here you cross Round Swamp Rd and head to the second, which is a short, uphill par 4 of 389 yards. The fairway slants a little right to left and the green is elevated and can be a challenge to hold. The third is a par 3 that plays about 160 yards normally but has been brought back to 230 the PGA. This is one of the more interesting greens on the course; it’s wide on the right and falls away as it gets to the back and tapers to a smaller, more narrow section on the left. Bunkers flank the short left and right side of the green.

The fourth hole is vintage Bethpage Black and probably the most photographed on the course. A huge bunker flanks the left side of the fairway off the tee of the 517-yard par-5. Another, even more huge bunker looms at the end of the fairway cut into the from right to left. The tee shot is downhill but the rest of the hole is uphill. There is a second fairway to layup over the big bunker where you will have a partial view of the small, flattish green that falls away slightly and is protected by two more deep bunkers to the front and left. The fifth is a monster par 4 of almost 480 yards. A massive fairway bunker guards the right side of the fairway which is also the best angle to come into the small, elevated green guarded by two deep bunkers short and one over the green.

FARMINGDALE, NEW YORK – MAY 15: A general view of the fifth green is seen during a practice round prior to the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 15, 2019 in Farmingdale, New York. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

No. 6 gets back into the more open and less tree-lined part of the property. The tee shot is semi-blind and over a hill. The landing area is pinched by bunkers on both sides. The long hitter who can carry the hill should have a very short shot into the flattish, oval shaped green that’s open in front and protected by bunkers on both sides. No. 7 is a converted par 5 that plays as a par 4 for the PGA. At 524 yards, it’s very long and the tee shot requires a long poke over another large fairway bunker. The green is again pretty flat and protected by deep bunkers in front.

The eighth hole is unique for the Black as it’s the only hole with water in play. A 210-yard drop shot to a green with some slope from right to left and front to back and a ridge running on a diagonal angle through the middle of the green. The shot must carry the pond short of the green and there is a deep bunker left and a hillside right. Nine is a 460-yard hard dogleg left that drops down off the tee and back up to the green. Another very deep bunker guards the left side and can be carried by the longer hitter. The right side of the fairway is the safe play off the tee but leaves an awkward shot out of a gully up to the green. The green is heavily guarded in front again by deep bunkers.

As the players make the turn, they are confronted with another long, tight par 4 of just over 500 yards. Hitting the fairway is key here as the fairway is heavily guarded by bunkers and fescue. The green sits on the other side of a little gully and is guarded once again by a set of deep bunkers. The 11th hole is 435 yards and has probably the most interesting green on the course. It has a little false front and two distinct tiers with some nice internal movement. A really good green on any course it stands out on the Black amongst what is mostly a flatter set of greens. 12 forces the players to carry it 285 over a massive cross bunker on the 515-yard par 4. The green is back to the more typical flattish oval, and characteristically is guarded in the front on both sides by deep bunkers. 13 is a par 5 of over 600 yards. One of the least bunkered holes on the course, there are a few bunkers on the left and a great little cross bunker about 60 yards short of the green that obscures the view of the green and will make the players think twice about going for the green in two. 14 is the best chance for birdie on the course. A par 3 that plays only 160 yards over a valley to a narrow, long green.

After walking off the 14th green the players cross back over Round Swamp Road to the home stretch of the course. 15 is always the hardest hole on the course for me when I play the Black. The hole plays 460 yards. The tee shot is flat to a fairway that bends slightly right to left and has no bunkers. The second shot is massively uphill. Over a hillside set with bunkers and a small section of fairway to a green set into the top of the hill and guarded by the deepest bunkers on the course. A very hard hole to make par if you miss the fairway or miss the green. The 16th has a downhill tee shot that will test the player’s judgement of the wind if there is any present. The green is well guarded especially to the right and is small with a little slant to it. The 17th is an uphill brute of a 210-yard par 3. The green is 45 yards wide and is huge. However, it does not look big from the tee as it is set amongst a veritable minefield of bunkers waiting to swallow up any wayward shots. The players walk up a hill to the 18th tee and stare down at a fairway that gets severely pinched in the middle by the huge bunkers on both sides. The green is then back uphill, it’s medium sized with a slight kidney shape and two deep, artistically shaped bunkers set into the hillside short.

All of this adds up to a great test of championship golf.  The course is pretty straightforward. There is not a ton of strategy other than hit it long and straight and make as many putts as you can. The greens are mostly pretty flat so there should be a lot of chances for birdie for those that can reach the greens in regulation. That said, the course has a ton of character when it comes to the land movement and elevation changes as well as the massive, artistic bunkers. New Yorkers are VERY proud of the Black and for a very good reason. It’s a fantastic golf course. Golf needs more top courses like the Black that are accessible to everyone and challenging to even the best players in the world.

 

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep 79): Miura’s new HB wedges and the Art of Golf

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Miura Golf COO Bill Holowaty talks about the new High Bounce wedges and other offerings from the legendary clubmaker. Also features Lee Wybranski, renowned artist and creator of the official posters for golf’s major championships.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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19th Hole

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