Rickie Fowler is Now Ready to Become a Major Champion
He may have come up agonisingly short of winning, but this Masters Sunday could prove to be a landmark date in the career of Rickie Fowler. Patrick Reed deservedly left Augusta National with the glory and that coveted Green Jacket, but this year’s runner-up departed those famous grounds with a renewed certainty that his time will come. “I am ready to go win a major,” he said as the dust settled on a dramatic finale.
“This was kind of the first major week that I understood that and knew that and felt that,” he continued after finishing one shot back of the champion following a final round of 67. Last year, he began the final day a stroke behind Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, ultimately succumbing to a meek 76 that raised questions about his ability to step across that daunting finishing line. 12 months later, those queries within himself are considerably more positive about the future. “I would say previously, I was still feeling the nerves and dealing with tough rounds and things not going your way.
“The big round for me was yesterday (Saturday). I didn’t feel my best. I felt like I had to really stick to my game plan and fight through a few times where I may not have felt comfortable and just try to gut it out,” he revealed. “Obviously with a 65, I was very pleased with that.
“So, I'm ready to go.”
There was a noted sense of defiance to the 29-year-old after this latest opportunity. Butch Harmon, the revered Septuagenarian coach, has been working tirelessly to instil that grit within his student, demanding a commitment and focus to pressure situations that perhaps had been sufficiently lacking in the past. Harmon, best known for his work with a young Tiger Woods, is renowned for his ability to mould personalities just as effectively as he can hone their techniques. 2016 PGA champion, Jimmy Walker is a fine exemplar of that. Having put together Saturday and Sunday rounds in the 60s in Georgia, we caught a glimpse of a different Rickie Fowler.
Harmon, who last week marked the anniversary of his father’s Masters victory in 1948, is a popular analyst for Sky Sports during the majors, and he was forthright on air when discussing his long-time pupil who he is clearly fond of. “It's just a matter of him focusing a little better and getting his mind more set on what he wants to do instead of racing ahead and thinking of winning the tournament,” the youthful 75-year-old remarked.
Standing on the eighth tee at one-over for the day – without a birdie and becoming an afterthought as Jordan Spieth unleashed his breathtaking surge to the summit – Fowler remained committed to his process and responded to that disappointing opening third of the round with six birdies, including that superb three on the 18th, which represented something of a victory within himself. Rickie is now ready to finally elevate himself from simply being the nearly man in golf.
“Obviously, I want to be the one standing on top after the four rounds,” he continued. “But this is — if anything, it's a step forward and makes me feel better about going forward into our next major, the US Open. It's going to be fun. I feel like this is a year to knock off our first.”
Critics point to his comparatively paltry tally of four PGA Tour titles as being evidence that Fowler has consistently been more style than substance. Justin Thomas has won six since January 2017. But his stunning victory at The PLAYERS Championship in 2015 – when he played the last four holes in five-under to secure a winning spot in a playoff – was an ideal rehearsal to succeeding in one of the game’s four most historically significant and prestigious events.
Those of us on the opposite side of the Atlantic may hold a different view of Fowler. We have seen the substance. His performance in the foul-weather of Royal St. George’s. The committed effort to chase down Rory McIlroy at Hoylake. And spectators on Scotland’s Golf Coast witnessed his brilliant triumph at the Scottish Open at Gullane in 2015. We have seen his quality and enjoyed his embrace of the unique challenges of links golf. He also won the Abu Dhabi Championship in 2016.
These triumphs came months after he finished in the top five of every major in 2014. We may have expected that next bridge to have been crossed long before now, particularly during an era of young starters in the men’s game. Each of the current major champions are Americans in their 20s. Rickie Fowler has long held the profile and status, but he was surpassed by the emerging generation behind just when it seemed like his time was imminent. Like Phil Mickelson, a similarly fan-favourite star who took longer than anticipated to etch his name into immortality, Rickie has been left to wait patiently, but that may just be an asset should the opportunity arise again. When it comes to ranking popularity victories, it would be a win for the ages.
Rickie is a warmly liked figure across the spectrum of the game. His most direct contemporaries – Spieth, Thomas among them – view the soon to be 30-year-old (shock!) as the “grandfather” of their social and competitively supportive cohort of players, while Jack Nicklaus has long spoken highly of the younger man’s consistently respectful nature. He’s always the first to congratulate his friends when they triumph in a huge event – an increasingly common occurrence – which is a testament to his character. He warmly hugged Patrick Reed on Sunday. Some, particularly among golf’s older and more aggressively cutthroat generations, have suspicions that those endearing gestures are a weakness that has held him back, but those visible congratulations will certainly be reciprocated by his peers should Fowler find himself cast in their leading role.
Approaching the US Open at Shinnecock Hills – a course that ranks among his personal favourites – and the Open Championship’s return to the formidable Carnoustie, Rickie Fowler will be regarded as a stronger contender for those than before. The 2018 Masters may be looked back on as the platform, the week that made this charming Californian ready to become a major champion. It crucially feels more likely to happen than it did last Thursday. It may finally be his time.
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