Tour brethren celebrate Fowler's breakthrough

By Rex HoggardMay 7, 2012, 1:08 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – “Trust it Rickie,” caddie Joe Skovron whispered in a tone loud enough to be heard across Quail Hollow’s 18th-green amphitheater.

As if a 23-year-old has reason to second-guess. Sure he’d heard the drumbeat of doubt, the type of overtly critical analysis manifest with unrequited expectations. As recently as last Wednesday Rickie Fowler had reminded the media masses that he’d be a fifth-year senior at Oklahoma State had he not traded dorm life for a day job on the PGA Tour.

On Sunday Fowler painted Quail Hollow’s “Green Mile” OSU orange, a walk-off win fit for a phenom with equal parts drama, heartbreak and heroics, the latter coming courtesy a wedge shot at the first extra hole that nestled to 4 feet for his PGA Tour breakthrough.

It was apropos that a victory that seemed so long in the making would go to extra innings. That the collection of Tour frat brothers lingering about the 18th green following the one-hole playoff was a testament to Fowler’s popularity, which always ran deeper than his mass marketing exterior.

“It’s so great that Rickie won,” said Gerry McIlroy, notable because he is the affable father of Rory, who – along with D.A. Points – Fowler defeated in extra frames after finishing 72 holes tied at 14 under.

Now that’s appeal. And it shows how those within the game viewed Fowler’s rise, which was criticized in some circles for its languid pace. So much so that out of the gates on Wednesday Fowler was poised with a ready answer when asked about his winless schneid.

“I won the (2011) Korean Open,” he smiled.

In retrospect the kid’s redirect was a telling precursor to his Wells Fargo victory, having gone head-to-head with McIlroy in a Sunday shootout last year in Korea.

But not many figured this was Rickie’s week. Not when he began the final turn two strokes behind a cruising Webb Simpson with the likes of McIlroy, who won this event in 2010 for his maiden Tour tilt, and Nick Watney laying in wait.

But when Simpson faltered out of the gates, making the turn in 1 over, it quickly became the Rickie & Rory show when Fowler birdied the 12th to grab a share of the lead and he moved clear of the field with a two-putt birdie at No. 15.

Yet even then there were doubts when he went from bunker to bunker at the 16th to drop out of the lead with the rest of the “Green Mile” looming. When his slicing, downhill 20-footer for birdie at the last slid by it seemed Fowler had come up short, again.

From a small room in the sprawling Quail Hollow clubhouse Fowler watched his fortunes change in rapid order. First Points pushed his approach right of the last green and made his first bogey of the weekend and McIlroy forced the second playoff in as many years in Charlotte when his 16-footer for birdie missed wide.

In the playoff it was all Fowler. A drive to 133 yards, a bold 51-degree wedge to 4 feet, a birdie on a hole that yielded just five sub-par scores on Sunday, a breakthrough so long in the coming.

“Rickie and his caddie picked a good club. They picked a club that was either going to go there or it might go in the creek,” said Points, who closed with a 71 for his best finish since his victory last year at Pebble Beach. “To hit that shot, that was the kind of club he needed. The shot he hit was spectacular.”

Quintessential Fowler – colorful and entertaining.

Although Fowler had said he wasn’t bothered by those who doubted his ability to win, on Sunday, with a chalice secured, he relented.

“There’s definitely some relief,” said Fowler, whose closing 69 featured six birdies and three bogeys. “There were times when I felt like I pushed a little bit, whereas this week I sat back and waited for it. . . . There are a lot of people who said I’d never win so it’s nice to shut them up a little bit.”

No one has ever doubted McIlroy, who despite opening with two bogeys in his first four holes seemed destined for his second Wells Fargo title until a sloppy bogey at the 17th hole.

In his first tournament since the Masters the Ulsterman showed the kind of power and precision that will make him a favorite at this week’s Players Championship, and beyond.

“To come back after three weeks off and get myself in the mix. I gave myself a chance to win, which was nice,” said McIlroy, whose runner-up showing pushed him back atop the world golf ranking. “It gives me a bit of confidence going into next week.”

One player who won’t be overflowing with confidence when he wheels down TPC Sawgrass Lane will be Tiger Woods, who endured just his eighth missed cut as a professional following rounds of 71-73 and is now heading to a golf course that has been anything but friendly confines.

Woods hasn’t finished the week the last two years at The Players, withdrawing in 2010 and 2011 with injury, has contended just once on the Stadium Course in the last decade and is searching for his first win there since 2001.

“First wins,” however, are no longer a concern for Fowler, who now has substance to go with all that style.

“It was going to be sooner or later and I’m just glad it was sooner,” said Ben Crane, who joined Fowler on the 18th green for the victory celebration. “I wouldn’t have wanted it to start bothering him.”

Skovron had it right, we just had to trust it.

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.