Scottish Open champion and links lover Rickie Fowler is all set for St. Andrews
“You know, I'm excited to be here. I love playing links golf” – Rickie Fowler on Tuesday at the Scottish Open
For years, Rickie Fowler has spoken of his love and appreciation for the original form of the sport. Strong performances in Open Championships have shown that his respect for links golf has carried into his game. However, on Sunday, at the magnificent Gullane Golf Club, the Scottish Open would be the event where that reverence and positivity had finally converted itself into a victory.
In a finish that was reminiscent of his startling closing holes at TPC Sawgrass during the conclusion of the recent Players Championship, the likeable and popular Californian birdied three of the last four holes at the East Lothian layout to finish one shot ahead of compatriot Matt Kuchar and Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin.
It was an impressive surge, securing his first win on the European Tour, and positioning himself as one of the form horses ahead of the 144th Open Championship at St. Andrews. This is the first step of a magical double.
Throughout the week, the 26-year-old had referenced the success of his fellow Butch Harmon stablemate, Phil Mickelson, who succeeded in both the Scottish and Open Championships in consecutive weeks back in 2013. It was an inspiration for the younger man. And now Fowler will have the opportunity to match that stunning achievement at the Home of Golf.
“Seeing what he (Phil Mickelson) did a couple years ago. It definitely makes sense to play over here the week before and get acclimated and also play on a links golf course to get used to getting possibly the game ready and just getting a few things straightened out the week prior.”
This victory is the most notable chapter of the Ryder Cup star’s relationship with seaside golf. It began seven years ago at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland during the 2007 Walker Cup, which saw him compete against an equally boyish and wildly haired Rory McIlroy. That week left an impression on the American.
Returning three years later for his debut appearance in the Open Championship, he would finish in a tie for 14th in his debut at golf’s oldest major, impressing many in attendance with his ability to overcome the complications and changeability of the Old Course. That will stand him in good stead when he makes it back to St. Andrews.
It was certainly a required skill on Sunday at Gullane, with the increased breeze contrasting dramatically from the benign conditions of earlier in the week. It would be a fair assessment to state that an ability to score and perform in inclement conditions is a critical attribute for anyone who wishes to play consistently on the coast of the British Isles, and Fowler’s aptitude in bad weather was once again clear.
He first exhibited it at Royal St. Georges, where he battled the worst of the wind and rain during Saturday’s third round to eventually finish in a tie for fifth on the Kent coast in 2011. Reflecting on that performance, Fowler stated that mentality is the key to success.
“You've got to be ready for really anything and accept the challenge and try to make it as fun as possible. Everyone is out there dealing with the same thing. So the more fun you can make it, then you can take out most of the field that way.”
Comparative disappointments would later come at Lytham and Muirfield, which came at a time of transition with Fowler making swing adjustments under the tutelage of the legendary Harmon. They began to bear fruit last year, with a stunning set of result in the majors, including a runner-up to Rory McIlroy at Hoylake.
Despite these fine performances, there was a long period in his (still) young career when Fowler was considered to be a representation of style over a substance. He was seen in some circles as simply being a brand, rather than a proper golfer. All of those falsehoods have since been corrected in the past year, with those impressive major showings and two very important victories etched onto his growing CV.
His proficiency for links can be understood for three reasons. His predisposed embrace and enjoyment for the unpredictability and examination required gives him a psychological edge, but his ability to shape the ball and create shots is something that naturally lends itself to good performances on firm courses in windy conditions.
Perhaps more critically, however, is his talent on the seaside greens. Touch on the surfaces was something that long evaded Mickelson, but Fowler has clearly got the head start on his older compatriot, a fact illustrated by the fact he only required 107 putts during the four days at Gullane, an average of 26.75 per round.
Those statistics would certainly go a long way to succeeding on the ancient links of St. Andrews, with the vast double greens testing the putting strength of even the most skilled practitioners.
Winning the Scottish Open also fully closes the book on his disastrous showing at Chambers Bay, with the excessively grandiose nature of that course evidently not sitting well with someone who has shown such a respect and proficiency for a more traditional and sedate form of links golf.
Though not necessarily the precursor for success next week, this victory has firmly placed Fowler in the conversation at St. Andrews. He is now all set to stake his bid or the Claret Jug. And that is exactly what he intended.
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