Rickie Fowler is 32. That might be tough to believe, given that we’ve viewed him as the eternal kid since he came into our consciousness after leaving Oklahoma State in 2010. Dressed head-to-toe in orange with dozens of children in his gallery wearing the same thing.
But he’s a grown-up now and grown-ups have to face tough questions sometimes, life-changing stuff. Is my career where I want it? Am I doing what I thought I’d be doing at this age? Am I doing it well? What are my priorities supposed to be? How can I be better? Where do I want to be in 10 years? 20 years?
And that’s before you hit the first range ball. Golf is hard and professional golf is nearly impossible. Add a healthy dose of life on top of it and you have the touring pro’s conundrum: Am I playing bad golf because my life is out of order? Or is my life out of order because I’m playing bad golf?
Fowler, who is in this week's Travelers Championship, continues his pursuit of the solution to the eternal riddle that baffles practically every golfer: Why can’t I play like I used to?
The truth is, Fowler has played well. Since he came out on Tour in 2010, he has five victories. The problem is, most people think that number should be at least doubled by now. He has labored under the weight of great expectations.
However, he won the Players Championship in 2015, shortly after Sports Illustrated conducted an anonymous poll of PGA Tour players, which revealed that Fowler and Ian Poulter were considered the most overrated. So, he’s got some backbone.
He won twice in 2015 after finishing in the top five in all four major championships the previous year, including runner-ups at the U.S. Open and the British Open. Only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka have achieved that feat. So, he’s got some game.
But then it left him and his fall has been precipitous. He was the No. 4 player in the Official World Golf Ranking in 2016 and was No. 128 after this year’s AT&T Byron Nelson, where he missed the cut, one of seven MCs in 19 events in the 2020-21 season.
In fact, this year, he missed the cut in four of the five places he’s won: the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Players, the Honda Classic and the Wells Fargo Championship, the site of his first victory in 2012. He hasn’t won since 2019.
Fowler’s recent resume didn’t qualify him for a Masters invitation and he didn’t qualify with a pencil and scorecard for a spot in the U.S. Open, the first time he’s missed either of those major championships since 2010.
“It's not fun sitting at home watching other guys play majors, that's for sure,” Fowler said. “It's added motivation. I wouldn't say I ever like necessarily took them for granted. It's such a fine line out here. I think all of you understand that. Everyone out here on Tour understands that, the difference of being on teams or being at majors and sitting at home watching is small.”
Fowler and Jordan Spieth know how the other one feels, so much that they can probably finish each other’s sentences.
Fowler shares experiences with his core group of Spieth, Justin Thomas and Jason Dufner.
“I talked to Jordan a decent amount,” Fowler said of his friend who, too, is in the process of piecing his game back together. “Jordan was kind of going through it before me. We're all here to help each other, and that's what's been fun through it. J.T. is always there for me. Duf the same way.
“Being able to talk to guys where you can relate as far as like player thoughts or swing thoughts and how other guys think or go about things, and also just that reassurance from your peers and some of your best friends that kind of help you either keep some confidence or build some confidence.”
Fowler parted ways with Butch Harmon, his longtime swing instructor, who once accused Fowler of wanting to be a Kardashian. He has been working for the past year with John Tillery, who teaches Kevin Kisner, among others.
“A lot of work was put in over the last kind of year, year and a half leading up to that, but the last few months has been a bit more of just going out and not worrying so much about the swing, but just playing golf and hitting shots,” Fowler said Wednesday.
“It's been a long time coming, but nice to finally start to see some results.”
Prior to missing the U.S. Open, Fowler finished T8 at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C., and T11 at the Memorial Tournament. He’s hoping the Travelers will be a jumping-off point for the remainder of the season. He currently stands No. 113 on the FedEx Cup points list.
His upcoming schedule, which includes the British Open at Royal St. George’s, is going to be more U.S.-centric for a very good reason. Fowler and his wife, Allison, recently announced they are expecting their first child.
Which drives home the sometimes uncomfortable truth: that he’s not a kid anymore.
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