Fowler a major contender after switch to Harmon

By Rex HoggardAugust 5, 2014, 1:00 pm

The conversation lasted about five minutes, but Butch Harmon heard everything he needed to know in the first five seconds.

“He said, ‘I want to be known more for my golf than my clothes and my hat. I want to contend in majors,’” Harmon said of the fateful phone call he received from Rickie Fowler last December.

The clothes and flat-brimmed hat remain, but everything has changed.

Gone are the inconsistencies of a swing based on timing, and the days of showing up at major championships cautiously optimistic but invariably settling for another pedestrian performance.

When Fowler called the legendary swing coach late last year, the two had already started talking about what needed to be done. In fact, it started at the Open Championship in July following rounds of 78-76 at Muirfield.

It was Fowler’s metaphorical rock bottom.

“I was definitely ... at a confidence low as far as looking at my whole game,” Fowler recalled.

Harmon characterizes his work with Fowler as fine-tuning.

“You know me, I don’t really do major overhauls,” said Harmon, who at 70 continues to expand his staff of world-beaters, recently adding Brandt Snedeker to a stable that includes Phil Mickelson, Jimmy Walker and Dustin Johnson.

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But even to the casual observer the 25-year-old’s signature re-route in his downswing is a thing of the past. From those simplified mechanics have come great things.

In Fowler’s first 14 Grand Slam starts as a professional he had a single top-5 finish, at the 2011 Open Championship where he tied for fifth. In 2014 he is 3-for-3 at the game’s most important events, finishing runner-up - and heading out in Sunday’s final group, in both the U.S. Open and Open Championship - and tying for fifth place at Augusta National.

He is the only player to post top-5 showings in 2014’s first three majors, a statistical reality that makes Fowler an easy favorite for this week’s PGA Championship.

For all his accomplishments this season, however, Fowler is not blind to the elephant on his resume. The 2012 Wells Fargo Championship remains his only Tour victory and while the competitive landscape may be changing, fans are still drawn to his style more than his substance.

Which is where Harmon comes in and where potential intersects with performance.

“I wanted to start moving forward. I was kind of at a standstill and wasn't getting what I wanted out of my game,” Fowler said of the decision that led him to Harmon.

Where most observers see Fowler’s drastically improved play in the majors this year, those within his inner circle have clocked much more subtle changes.

He added 8 yards to his average drive this season, drastically refined his wedge play (he’s sixth on Tour in shots from 125 to 150 yards) and lopped nearly two strokes off his final-round scoring average (69.64).

The first glimpse of the new and improved Fowler occurred in April during his normal Tuesday match with Mickelson at the Masters. He and Lefty defeated Jason Dufner and Johnson thanks in large part to Fowler’s nine birdies and an eagle.

“That started it,” recalled Fowler’s longtime caddie Joe Skovron. “And then after (the Memorial Tournament) some of the things he worked on and he started moving the ball left-to-right, instead of right-to-left, and he went to a go-to shot. That’s the swing changes that allowed him to do that.”

The transition has also changed the way Fowler acts and reacts on the golf course. Always one of the Tour’s fastest players, the newfound confidence has allowed him to be more selective, more measured, when the pressure builds.

“It’s allowed his golf swing to be more consistent and our strategy has become more consistent,” Skovron said. “He can hit the proper shot more often. He’s made a concentrated effort on his process, and if you’ve noticed he’s slowed down before shots. You can see him every once in a while he will step back and take a better look at it.”

Perhaps predictably Fowler’s short game, one of the cornerstones of his play since turning professional in 2009, has suffered during the transition. His strokes gained-putting average has ballooned to the highest it’s ever been, and at both Pinehurst and Royal Liverpool he ranked outside the top 10 in putting for the week.

Nor has his play in non-major events matched his Grand Slam game. He has just two top-10 finishes (a sixth-place showing at the Shell Houston Open and T-8 at Firestone) in a non-major, stroke play event and has almost as many missed cuts (seven) as he does top-25 finishes nine.

But that too seems predictable considering his wholesale transition to Harmon’s theories, and his decision to forgo short-term success in exchange for relevance in the year’s biggest events.

“Right now I'm definitely able to come in the majors and go into each week believing in myself and believing in my game and believing in what I'm working on with Butch,” Fowler said.

“That gives me so much confidence knowing that I'm working, I believe, with the best coach there is in golf. To be in positions at majors this year, and to see it actually pay off, it just keeps building confidence for myself.”

Fowler will likely always be known for his bright clothes and flat-brimmed hats, but he now is becoming comfortable with a new look – major championship contender.

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.