Rickie Fowler wasn’t the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year
He didn’t win a major in 2015.
He didn’t do enough to challenge Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day for “Big Three” consideration.
He did, however, deliver the most spectacular performance of the season during a breakout year that recast him as one of the game’s most formidable and deserving young stars. The key word there is “deserving,” because even some of Fowler’s peers apparently didn’t believe he was worthy of all the hype he received before delivering three impressive victories this year.
Fowler began redefining himself with his spectacular finish at The Players Championship in May, winning with one of the boldest Sunday charges you’ll ever see. Named early that week with Ian Poulter as the most overrated players in the game in a magazine player survey, Fowler delivered the most eloquent answers to all his critics. He hit more clutch shots coming down the stretch at TPC Sawgrass than most players will hit in a year, more than some will hit in an entire career.
Fowler won The Players with a birdie at the fourth playoff hole, sticking a gap wedge to 4 feet and 8 inches at the famed 17th. He played the island hole three times that Sunday and birdied it all three times, twice in the playoff. He birdied 15 and eagled 16 in regulation, and then birdied both 17 and 18 to get into the playoff with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner.
“Obviously, he’s not overrated,” Kisner said afterward. “I think he proved that.”
Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee liked the manner in which Fowler answered his critics.
“I cannot remember a more in-your-face victory,” Chamblee said.
Butch Harmon, who began working as Fowler’s swing coach about 16 months before the victory, wondered who voted Fowler most overrated.
“They must feel silly now,” Harmon told Sky TV.
The Players wasn’t Fowler’s lone statement.
A year after recording top-five finishes in each of the major championships, Fowler broke through to win on three large stages in 2015, just not major championship stages. That’s about all Fowler didn’t do while proving himself a formidable closer this year. He closed out memorably in all three of his victories.
After winning The Players, Fowler won the Scottish Open in July with birdies at three of the final four holes. He beat the strong field assembled in Scotland a week before the Open Championship. Two months after that, Fowler came from three shots behind Henrik Stenson on the back nine at the Deutsche Bank Championship to win a FedEx Cup event.
“It’s been a good year as far as being able to get the door knocked down,” Fowler said. “Last year, I put myself in positions to win, and this year I finally took care of business. I’ve been able to rack up a few trophies.”
Harmon knew what The Players would do for Fowler.
“He got so much confidence at The Players, not only in what he’s doing, but in what he can do in competition,” Harmon told USA Today. “He believes in himself now. The beauty of Rickie now is he knows how good he is. He knows all the hard work he’s done has paid off.”
Fowler will be looking to make his mark next on the majors after reaching most of his goals in 2015.
“The only goal I didn’t get was winning a major,” he said. “I guess we’ll keep that one on the list for next year.”