AFTER Rickie Fowler closed with a brilliant final round in the Players Championship, which he would go on to win, a tongue-in-cheek Ian Poulter posted this message from his Twitter account: “Totally overrated finish from @RickieFowlerPGA. Nice playing mate. Impressive.”
Before the Players, readers will remember, in a survey conducted by Golf.com, PGA Tour players were asked to anonymously answer a series of questions, one of which was who they thought were the most overrated players on tour. They came up with Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler.
So, to put it mildly, wasn’t it ironic that 26-year-old Fowler would play the last four holes at TPC Sawgrass in the final round of the Players Championship in fewer strokes than anyone before in the tournament’s history? In an explosive burst of magnificent golf, he went birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie – 3-3-2-3- to post a 67 for 12-under-par 276 to be leader in the clubhouse.
“I was out of the golf tournament through 12 holes,” Fowler, who is the face of Cobra Puma Golf, recalled afterwards. “But, after I birdied 13 and saved par at 14, I said to my caddie (Joe Skovron). ‘Well, let’s try to birdie the last four holes and see what happens. And I one-upped myself.”
Ultimately, Fowler’s 276 was matched by countryman Kevin Kisner and Spain’s Sergio Garcia, which led to a three hole play-off. After playing holes 16, 17 and 18 Garcia dropped out while Fowler and Kisner remained tied, so they headed to the treacherous par-3 17th hole with its island green to play sudden death.
Fowler didn’t mess around. He hit his ball to within six feet of the cup and rolled in the putt for his second PGA Tour victory, this time in one of the planet’s biggest tournaments often referred to as the game’s unofficial fifth major.
Last year Fowler joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players in history to finish in the top five in all four Majors in a calendar year. He also finished in the top three in three of 2014’s four World Golf Championships events, including a pair of thirds at the WGC-Match Play and the WGC-HSBC Champions. Overrated? More like underrated! So, why were PGA Tour members so critical of him in the survey? Some of it probably stems from his large, long-standing, passionate legion of fans. His youthful demeanor and colourful style appeal to an army of supporters and he is one of the most popular faces in the game.
Fowler grew up idolising neither a Tiger Woods or a Jack Nicklaus. Jeremy McGrath was his hero. So who is Jeremy McGrath? He is the Arnold Palmer of motocross riding, and Fowler was a talented, motocross fanatic as a youngster, probably headed for stardom himself. But at 15 he broke his foot in three parts and that’s when he took up golf, his second love, full time.
He still rides but only for fun and he attributes lessons learnt in motocross to helping him become a champion golfer.
“How could I be nervous on a golf course after countless times barrelling at top speed while riding,” he said in a magazine interview. “Motocross has made me fearless on the course. On a dirt bike, when you’re sizing up a jump you can’t have any second thoughts. You have to fully commit. If you don’t, a lot of things can go wrong. This has taught me to fully commit ion the golf course too.”
Fowler won $1.8-million for his victory at the Players Championship, and celebrated by taking his girlfriend Alexis Randock on holiday to the Bahamas. He didn’t spend all night carousing, though, which would, for example, be something that a party-loving Darren Clarke would do. Clean-living Fowler reportedly does not drink and attends the weekly Bible study classes on the PGA Tour. He also has set up a charity to help Native American people and people of Japanese descent (his grandfather was Japanese) who need assistance.
After his Players triumph, he was asked about being overrated by his peers. “I laughed at the poll,” he replied, “but if there was any question, I think this right here answers anything you need to know,’’ he said, pointing to the crystal trophy sitting next to him.
Fowler, meanwhile, will continue to be the face of Cobra Puma Golf after coming to terms on a long-term extension that will see him use Cobra clubs and wear Puma Golf apparel, footwear and accessories.
Fowler signed with Cobra Puma in 2009 after turning professional and immediately made a name for himself with the all-orange outfits he wore during final rounds at the time. He’s still a highly colourful dresser, while – no doubt about it – his brilliant shotmaking also brings a rich glow to the game of golf.
“Rickie defines the new generation of golf – his progressive approach to the game, on and off the course, is in line with our company’s values,” says Bob Philion, president and CEO of Cobra Puma Golf.
“His commitment to the brand is unwavering and we are excited that he will continue his professional career with us.”