Rickie Fowler ends amateur career with Walker Cup win

By Randall MellSeptember 14, 2009, 4:17 am

USGAARDMORE, Pa. – Rickie Fowler waved a large American flag in triumph Sunday at historic Merion Golf Club. Then he draped it over his shoulders and hurried off to hoist the Walker Cup with his teammates.

He couldn’t have asked for a better finish to a stellar amateur career. This was the perfect ending.

With a 2-and-1 victory against Great Britain & Ireland’s Matt Haines, Fowler capped a 4-0 record in the two-day event. He resisted the temptation to turn pro this summer because he wanted to feel this moment again. He wanted to help the Americans win the Walker Cup again. He was 3-1 helping take home the cup two years ago in Northern Ireland.

“This is the whole reason I stuck around,” Fowler said. “This is the most fun I’ve ever had in golf.”

Fowler’s mother, Lynn, shadowed her son in the celebration with her camera, snapping photos in rapid-fire fashion. His father, Rod, shadowed mom. His grandfather, Taka, who first put a golf club in Rickie’s hands when the boy was just 3, followed in tow with the rest of the family.

“I’m happy for Rickie,” Lynn said. “This is just confirmation of why he was so comfortable with his decision to wait for this event before turning professional.”

Fowler, 20, won’t wait long to begin his pro career in earnest. He will play as a pro on a sponsor’s exemption at this week’s Albertsons Boise Open in Idaho on the Nationwide Tour. Two weeks after that, he’s playing on another sponsor’s exemption at the Soboba Classic, a Nationwide Tour event not far from his family’s home in Murrieta, Calif. Two weeks after that, he’ll tee it up for the first time as a pro in a PGA Tour event, playing on yet another sponsor’s invitation at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

“I’ll hop a plane tomorrow morning to Boise and get things started,” Fowler said.

Fowler was one of the nation’s best collegians at Oklahoma State. He was the first freshman to win the Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s top collegiate player. As a sophomore last season, he finished third as an individual in the NCAA Division I Championship. He showed just how ready he is to turn pro when he nearly won the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational as an amateur last month in Columbus, Ohio. Fowler lost in a playoff to Derek Lamely.

Watching his grandson savor his final moments as an amateur Sunday at Merion, Taka Tanaka shook his head. Who knew what lay ahead when he first began taking Rickie to the Murrieta Valley Golf Range when he was 3?

“Kids all have dreams, but, honestly, I never imagined it would lead to this,” Taka said.

Neither did the kids in Murrieta who thought Rickie was destined to become a motocross racer like his father. Rod Fowler, 47, won the Baha 1000 on a four-wheeler in 1986.

“Big moment in my racing career,” Rod said while watching his son play Merion on Sunday.

Rod had Rickie riding a dirt bike when he was 3 and racing a few years later. Rickie, though, made a choice when he was 14. He made it after crashing on a motocross course three weeks before he was scheduled to try out for the Murrieta Valley High School golf team his freshman year. He broke three bones in his right foot.

“It was a freak accident,” said Rod, who owns a trucking company. “He had to throw the bike to avoid hitting a boy on the course.”

Rickie ended up making the golf team as a freshman anyway, but he told his father it was time to get rid of his motorcycle.

“I knew then he was pretty serious about golf,” Rod said.

Whatever lured Rickie to motocross remained part of his golf DNA.

Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw learned that you can take the boy out of motocross, but you can’t take motocross out of the boy.

“As a player, Rickie brought a daredevil approach to golf,” McGraw said walking Merion during Sunday singles. “I learned a lot about golf from him, from the way he plays. I was always a conservative player myself, playing from point A to point B. Rickie showed me there are a lot of ways you can play.”

McGraw said Fowler’s daredevil approach isn’t necessarily in a determination to attack pins. He said it’s in the way Fowler relishes trying different shots, in carving and moving shots in flight patterns other players might not dare. It’s also in the way he relishes escaping trouble.

A year ago, Fowler showed McGraw something carrying a water hazard with a 3-wood out of a fairway bunker at the third hole of Tiger Woods’ home club, Isleworth, to set up a birdie. McGraw couldn’t see himself making that gamble. Fowler also showed him something hitting a driver from a sidehill lie out of the rough to make birdie at the Golf Club at Georgia.

“I never imagined shots like that,” McGraw said. “That’s Rickie. He plays with great imagination and great creativity, but he’s also got the skills to pull off those shots.”

Event: Walker Cup

Rod Fowler says he sees the connection between his son’s derring-do on the golf course and on a motocross course.

“We’ve talked about that, how it’s easier pulling off a tough golf shot than trying to pull off a tough jump,” Rod said. “In motocross, there’s a lot more risk. He almost feeds off trying to hit tough shots.”

With his long mop of brown hair, Fowler still looks like he belongs on a motocross course. His swing is as distinct as his wild hair. It's a swing that will be scrutinized more now that he’s turning pro. It isn’t the classic on-plane swing you see in most PGA Tour pros. It’s a flat back swing, slightly laid off.

“It’s a throwback,” McGraw said. “It’s definitely different, but he has a lot of confidence in that swing and the ball keeps falling where he’s looking.”

Fowler’s swing wasn’t fashioned under the tutelage of a country club coach. His swing was developed at Murrieta Valley Golf Range, under the eye of a driving range instructor, Barry McDonnell. He’s still the only swing coach Fowler’s ever had.

“Barry taught Rickie old school,” Rod Fowler said. “He taught him to play with feel rather than mechanics. He also taught him how to fix himself. Mentally, he was good for Rickie. He taught him never to let anything get in his way.”

It’s a lesson Fowler will take to Boise this week. 

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.