Will Rickie Fowler’s First Professional Victory Spur Him on to Greatness?
Rickie Fowler has the faculty to become a class act, and we all know it. He has stormed onto the PGA tour, the epitome of the young, wonderfully talented former college golfer with almost limitless potential. And yet, after 59 events on the PGA Tour, he is yet to record his first victory. He has been in contention on numerous occasions, but weekend collapses have become a far too common occurrence, leaving many to wonder if he has the temperament and mindset to be a great success and impart his own legacy on the game of golf. Playing in Asia on the other hand: no problem. At the Kolon Korean Open, Fowler went wire-to-wire to end on a phenomenal 16-under par total, equalling the course record with a third round 63 along the way. Will this be the catalyst that kick-starts his victory tally on the PGA Tour, or will he continue to struggle, arguably because he has yet to come to terms with his immense popularity and subsequent added pressure?
Let us investigate his record on the PGA Tour. In his first full season, he recorded seven top 10s and two second place finishes, not to mention his solid performance in the Ryder Cup, where he memorably birdied the last 4 holes on Sunday to take a half from Edoardo Molinari. This season, he only achieved four top 10s and finished in a disappointing 43rd place in the Fed-Ex Cup standings. At the AT&T National at Aronimink Golf Club, he was tied for the lead going into Sunday, only to record a final round 74 and fall back into the pack. A poor weekend at the Masters Tournament negated the positive start he had made to the first major of the year. Indeed, poor weekends have started to become an unwanted trait for the young Fowler. This season, he ranked 19th in scoring average before the cut, 92nd in round three scoring average, and 121st in final round scoring average. It is difficult to account for such a drastic change in the space of a day or two, and for me, the answer lies with the inadvertent pressure brought about by the way he conducts himself, both on and off the course.
Talk of the way he conducts himself implies negative actions and a poor sense of responsibility, perhaps akin to the actions of a young John Daly. This is something I am keen to dismiss. Fowler comes across as a polite, decent young man with a great respect for the game. But he hasn’t just been thrust into the limelight, and has elected to make himself the centre of attention. His exuberance is refreshing, and can only help elevate the status of the game, but maybe he needs to show a higher degree of maturity in taking a step back and channelling his obvious enthusiasm into his game. His website is packed with information on the filming of ‘the Golf Boys – Oh Oh Oh’, on his love of twitter, and on his outlandish clothing – exactly the things that contribute to his popularity. But popularity creates pressure, and as we all know, pressure is at its highest when you go into a weekend in contention.
Does Fowler thrive under pressure? The statistics would suggest otherwise. On the other side of the world, with a relatively weak field, the situation may be different. But in the States, everyone knows who he is. Everyone knows that he wears all orange on Sundays. His heart is in the right place with his tribute to Oklahoma State Golf, but would those that have helped his development prefer him to wear orange, or to have a better Sunday scoring average? Does he invite more pressure by playing for himself and his former college? I think so. When things start going awry, you need to regroup and plod along under the radar, something that Fowler simply cannot do. I find it hard to believe that a 45 year old Rickie Fowler will still wear all orange on Sundays. He needs to make a fundamental change and become exclusively focused on his game. Perhaps the only other players as popular as Fowler are Mickleson, Woods, Kuchar and Donald, the difference being that they have all won on tour. The other members of the Golf Boys have all won on Tour. After that first win, the pressure subsides, but if I was Fowler, I would be focusing all my efforts on my game, and not disrupting my practice to tweet. Vibrancy, popularity and interaction with fans are important, but not as important as ensuring that his talents don’t go to waste. Fowler needs to be a bit selfish, stay under the radar and figure out a way to win on the PGA Tour. After all, a victory means more than a million followers.