Fowler an Old-School Throwback

By Randall MellJanuary 13, 2010, 7:28 pm
Rickie Fowler at Sony Open Press Conference
Rickie Fowler at Sony Open press conference (Getty Images)

Rickie Fowler will get a hard look from the PGA Tour’s old guard when he tees it up this week at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Veterans who have endured the test of time aren’t easily impressed.

The hype that can usher in the game’s bright new faces gives them pause. They have watched so many rookies projected to be the game’s next superstars flame out over the years. They’ve learned to trust their own probing eyes.

That’s why Fowler’s performance at the Shark Shootout in Naples, Fla., last month meant so much.

He passed the toughest of inspections there.

He played alongside Mark Calcavecchia and Chris DiMarco and won their respect with his old-school shot making.

By the time he signed his scorecard after that first round, he was practically one of them, a throwback they’re confident would have thrived making his way through yesteryear with persimmon woods and balata balls.

That was the Shark Shootout upset nobody read about.

Who would have thought an up-and-coming rookie whose dashing looks are being compared with Leonardo DiCaprio could be a kindred spirit to a rumpled old warrior like Calcavecchia?

Calcavecchia, 49, earned his way onto the PGA Tour back when Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino were still winning. He’s a 13-time PGA Tour winner who showed his shot-making prowess winning the British Open in 1989.

Fowler’s arsenal of shots impressed this member of the old guard.

It’s what Calcavecchia likes about Fowler’s game. It’s also Fowler’s real value to the PGA Tour.

Yes, at 21, with his long, golden locks, that funky Puma’s painters cap and his grasp of fashion, Fowler connects powerfully with today’s youngest fans. He makes the game seem cool. He’s got an X-Games kind of appeal with a derring-do style of play developed in a motocross background.

While that might win him a youthful following, it wins him nothing in a PGA Tour event.

It’s all about performance between the ropes, the ability to execute shots under pressure.

Calcavecchia and DiMarco will tell you they were won over in that department. They’ll tell you the kid’s got the tools to be special. While it doesn’t guarantee Fowler stardom, they like his chances.

“I’m glad I only have to look at him for another six months,” said Calcavecchia, who heads off for the Champions Tour in June. “I don’t think there’s anybody on the Champions Tour who can hit it by me 50 yards like Rickie did. For a little guy, he can bomb it, but he’s not a full-throttle guy who smashes every shot. He knows how to hit every shot, cuts and draws, how to take a lot off a shot. For 21 years old, to have every shot in the bag is pretty good. I think he’s going to be great.”

It took less than an hour into the first round of the Shark Shootout for Fowler to impress Calcavecchia.

Just 153 yards out in the fairway at Tiburon Golf Club’s fourth hole, Fowler faced a delicate approach into a brisk crossing wind.

It was a little test that made Calcavecchia straighten up and pay attention, the kind of shot that required imagination and finesse, skills most rookies haven’t fully developed in this smash-and-chase era.

The pin was tough to get at, tucked front left with water guarding the entire left side of the green. With the wind blowing in from the right, the water was in play for anything too aggressive.

“I’m thinking he might hit an 8-iron in there,” Calcavecchia said. “I’m right next to him, and I’m thinking I’m going to hit a 7-iron.”

Fowler surprised Calcavecchia, plucking a 6-iron out of his bag. He carved a pretty little three-quarter shot that obediently held its line against the wind before diving back to earth and checking to a stop 10 feet from the pin.

“It was pretty impressive,” Calcavecchia said. “He really took a lot off it. Obviously, he’s got control of what he’s doing.”

Fowler takes pride in his ability to move the ball left and right and control trajectory.

“I was just trying to control the distance along with the spin and flight,” Fowler said. “The wind didn’t touch it much. I controlled the spin to where the ball wasn’t going to do much in the air or on the ground.

“That was kind of a feel shot, trying to control the flight. I feel like there aren’t many young guys coming out that can hit a lot of shots now when they need to.”

An All-American at Oklahoma State, Fowler was a freshman when he won the Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s best player. He turned pro last fall after helping the Americans win the Walker Cup following his sophomore season. He made headlines quickly, losing the Open in a playoff in just his second PGA Tour start as a pro and went on to secure his PGA Tour card at Q-School last month.

DiMarco, 41, a three-time PGA Tour winner, was paired as Fowler’s partner in the Shark Shootout’s two-man team format. They finished seventh.

“The kid’s unbelievable,” DiMarco said. “He’s going to be good for many, many, many years.

“He’s a great ballstriker, hits the ball really far and is mature beyond his years. That’s the main thing. I remember when I was his age, and there was no way I was ready for this. The way he handles himself, I’ve only seen that a few times. Tiger was like that, Justin Leonard was like that, guys that were ready at that age. We maybe see one or two of these guys every 10 years.”

Rickie Yutaka Fowler is actually the full name. His middle name is Japanese. It’s his maternal grandfather’s name.

“I’m a quarter Japanese,” Fowler says.

It was his grandfather, Taka, who first put a golf club in his hands when he was 3. A few years later, he was following Taka to the Murrietta Valley Golf Range in his hometown in Murrietta, Calif. That’s where Fowler met Barry McDonnell, the only swing coach he’s ever had. McDonnell would challenge Fowler to learn to move the ball left and right and up and down as his game developed.

“He never used a video camera,” Fowler said. “I was always a feel player and still am.”

Fowler doesn’t pound balls at the range, he crafts shots. That’s how McDonnell got him to fall in love with the game. They would pretend they were drawing drives around the bend at the 13th hole at Augusta National or hitting shots under the wind at St. Andrews. They were always creating, controlling ball flight. Their work was never about robotically honing straight-arrow shots. That instilled a little bit of Seve Ballesteros in Fowler in that he relishes the great escape shots.

“Rickie almost feeds off trying to hit tough shots,” says Fowler’s father, Rod.

Part of that is the now well-told story of the motocross breeding in Fowler. Rod won the Baja 1,000 on a four-wheeler in 1986. He raced hard and rode tough. He has broken his ribs and punctured his lungs more than once in crashes. He had Rickie riding a dirt bike when Rickie was just 3. The entire family rides, including Rickie’s mother, Lynn, and younger sister, Taylor. Lynn won a 24-hour mountain bike race as part of a five-woman team in Idyllwild, Calif., eight years ago.

Rod likes how his son sees golf courses different than most golfers. He says Rickie can see race tracks, mountain roads and desert dune runs in an 18-hole layout. He sees the challenge in certain shots the way he used to see jumps on a track.

“He’s called me over to the ropes in the middle of a golf tournament and said, `Dad, doesn’t this hole remind you of that run at Ocotillo Wells,’” Rod said.

Rod won’t be alone watching to see if his son can put together a thrilling run to start his rookie year. Rickie? He’s taking it one jump – strike that – one shot at a time.

“I know there are a lot of people out there expecting a lot of me, or not expecting a lot,” he said of the hype. “With the pressure, I felt like I've dealt with it pretty well throughout the years, junior, amateur, college. So, really, my own expectations are just to get the most that I can out of every week, because you can be on top of the game one week and then you're struggling the next. I expect myself to play well, obviously, whether that be winning a few events, or maybe some top-10s here and there. I’m just really looking forward to getting a full year out here and trying to go without having too many expectations, have fun, play stress free golf.”
The fun, he hopes, begins in Hawaii.
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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.