Little Rickie Fowler remains golf’s ‘Next Big Thing.’ He's 150 pounds of potential wrapped in the loudest of oranges and brightest of blues.
Unlike a majority of the era’s most heralded young players, Fowler holes putts from all distances. He holes putts that matter, and in doing so, he has carried himself like a guy who plans on holing a whole bunch more.
Sartorially speaking, Fowler bears a striking resemblance to former phenom Sergio Garcia, whose canary outfits and mustard-ketchup combos proved bolder than his pursuit of greatness. A teenage girl might tell you both Sergio and Rickie are Tiger Beat material, but in Garcia’s case, she’d never know how wrong she actually is. In a previous life as El Nino, the dashing Spaniard featured an unorthodox golf swing – a homemade version of Hogan – with a pronounced dropping of the club at the top and enormous lag through the contact zone.
That move, sort of like the old Sergio, no longer exists. Fowler also has a bit of buggywhip action en route to the ball, although no one looks at his swing and talks about him needing to make changes. Garcia’s fall from the game’s top tier, however, had little to do with any mechanical alterations or his play from tee to green. He just stopped making putts, a problem that would have been difficult to envision 10 years ago.
So Fowler and Garcia have a few things in common, at least in terms of how they present themselves to the public. Sooner or later, of course, the difference between style and substance is obvious, and though Fowler has yet to win a PGA Tour event, it is only a matter of time before he becomes one of the world’s most productive players – the multiple major champion so many post-Woods prodigies are unlikely to be.
Charles Howell III lacked the cold-blooded competitive disposition. Aaron Baddeley couldn’t hit it straight. Adam Scott didn’t have the short game. And Garcia, for all his physical gifts, has clearly failed to discover the maturity and mental toughness that would have made him Tiger’s most formidable rival. Plenty of others have come and gone, and if Fowler isn’t the complete package – he ranks a ghastly 184th in driving accuracy this season – he has the right combination of talent and poise requisite to big-time stardom.
Anyone who wears clothing like that suffers from no shortage of nerve.
Never mind Friday’s loss to Matt Kuchar in the third round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. If you’re 22 years old and looking to make strides every week, Fowler accomplished that with his 6-and-5 thrashing of Phil Mickelson the day before. It was a fearless display of precision against one of the best to ever play the game – a situation that would have brought out the worst in a lot of young players.
Fowler isn’t Bubba Watson long, but he ranks in the top 25 percent on the PGA Tour in distance off the tee and finished 22nd in greens in regulation last season. He hasn’t missed a cut since last July, and though his best chances to win as a rookie ended in somewhat disappointing fashion – a strange layup in Phoenix, a water ball at the par-3 12th at the Memorial – it’s worth noting that David Duval piled up 19 top-10 finishes in his first three years before winning three consecutive tournaments at the end of 1997.
This kid may not pull off that stunt, but he’s good, he’s tough, and in five years, we may look at the guy in the fluorescent shirt and refer to him matter of factly as America’s best golfer.