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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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2 Comments

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  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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Photos from the 2021 Palmetto Championship at Congaree

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GolfWRX is live from Congaree Golf Club for the Palmetto Championship. This one-time replacement for the RBC Canadian Open is the third PGA Tour event contested in South Carolina this season.

Palmetto State native Dustin Johnson headlines the field (and has been doing plenty of putter testing). Brooks Koepka and Jason Dufner will be teeing it up as well. John Pak and Davis Thompson will both be making their professional debuts.

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John Pak, college golf’s top player, signs with TaylorMade

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Editor’s note: We filed this piece for PGATour.com’s Equipment Report.

With a buddy on the bag and fresh off receiving the Jack Nicklaus Award in Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday, celebrated amateur and Florida State standout John Pak is making his professional debut at this week’s Palmetto Championship at Congaree — and he’ll do so as a TaylorMade staffer, the company announced today.

College golf’s top player, Pak has played TaylorMade gear and a Titleist ball since his amateur days. And as we found out from Ryan Ressa, TaylorMade’s player development manager, who has worked with Pak since he was in his early teens, it’s not surprising Pak will continue with the same bag setup and ball combination as he joins the professional ranks.

The Scotch Plains, New Jersey, native is an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of guy when it comes to his equipment, which is a trait Ressa sees among many of the game’s best. (Another TaylorMade staffer Tiger Woods, for one, comes to mind).

Ressa and TaylorMade have had a relationship with Pak for nearly a decade, and it’s Ressa’s job to not only make sure Pak is in the right equipment for his game but is also navigating the matrix of amateur competitions, college, and the decision to turn pro successfully.

According to Ressa, Pak, and other junior standouts, need new equipment, or at least a fitting, roughly every six months as their bodies and swings change.

Even so, while he’s transitioned into new fairway wood models as they’ve become available, the DNA of Pak’s bag has stayed largely the same.

“Jon is a very simple guy when it comes to equipment, and he doesn’t do a lot of tinkering outside of driver shafts,” Ressa said. “Deep down, he’s a great competitor. He just loves to compete and is focused on getting the ball in the hole. He’s stayed really, really consistent with the look of his irons, the loft of his wedges, and his bag setup. He’s been easy to work with and only needs one or two visits per year to get squared away.”

Read the full piece here.

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Photos from the 2021 Memorial Tournament

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GolfWRX is live at Jack’s place for the 2021 Memorial Tournament. As always, a strong field has turned up to take on the Golden Bear’s track.

Past winner Bryson DeChambeau as well as Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay, Jon Rahm, and Jason Dufner will all tee it up this week.

We have a buffet of general galleries for your viewing pleasure and a number of special galleries that include some very cool new putter covers and a custom Hideki Matsuyama flatstick.

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