Fowler's goal: From supporting role to leading man

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2017, 2:00 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The grin on Rickie Fowler’s face was undeniable.

Standing in a small alcove next to the scoring area at Quail Hollow Club, a briefly-shirtless Fowler popped out from behind a window. He was in the midst of changing from his work outfit into something more casual, all while tapping on the glass to get the attention of the Champion Golfer of the Year.

Fowler and Jordan Spieth were waiting out the suffocating heat of another Charlotte afternoon, girlfriends by their sides, to be among the first to greet Justin Thomas after his rousing victory at the PGA Championship.

For Spieth, it was an opportunity to flip the script from a month ago at Royal Birkdale, to be there for a friend who had been there for him. For Fowler, though, it was another opportunity to welcome a friend into a club to which he still doesn’t belong.

There’s plenty of evidence to explain why Fowler is one of the most likable, and most well-liked, players on the PGA Tour. Good looks and an easygoing charisma go a long way, while his bold fashion choices make him stand out from three fairways over. His game also sparks plenty of head-turning in its own right.

PGA Championship: Scores | Live blog: Day 4 | Full coverage

Fowler’s social network on Tour runs deep, and in recent years he has become a one-man, 72nd-hole greeting committee, sharing in major breakthroughs with Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker, Spieth and now Thomas. Based on the outcome of the last two PGAs, the best shot at lifting the Wanamaker Trophy next year at Bellerive might be to snag a spot in Fowler’s contact list.

The smile was genuine Sunday, just as it had been on all the other occasions. Fowler can speak glowingly of his friends during their moment in the sun, and he did so again standing on the 18th green at Quail Hollow. But there's a stark difference between the hugs Spieth handed out and those offered by Fowler.

“I told him I was going to go out and try to show him something. At least I was able to do that on the back nine,” Fowler said as Thomas posed with the trophy a few feet away. “To see Jimmy on 18 last year, and to do the same thing with JT, I know that my time is coming. It’s not long.”

The frustration of watching some of your closest friends realize one of the exact and specific dreams you have worked toward your entire career is undeniable. But when it comes to Fowler, the sentiment has always been that he will eventually be the one commanding the celebration.

Surely, sooner rather than later it will be a gaggle of his peers greeting him behind the final green, welcoming him over the threshold with drinks in hand, rather than the other way around. Right?

As anyone who has ever heard the full-throated cries of “Rickie! Rickie!” at a PGA Tour event can attest, Fowler’s appeal to a younger demographic runs deep, and he often gets lumped into the “young guns” category. But he has a couple years on Spieth and Thomas – more than four, in fact. While the other two just turned 24, Fowler will be 29 in December.

That’s hardly over the hill by any standard. But the passage of time has a habit of accelerating without your permission.

Fowler just wrapped up his 30th major start as a pro. Sergio Garcia’s win at the Masters shows that a true talent can never be counted out, but perhaps a more apt comparison would be Phil Mickelson.

Lefty won his first in his 43rd major start as a pro, but by the time he drove down Magnolia Lane in 2004 the pressure to get across the finish line was stifling. That first win predictably led to two more over the next eight majors, and Mickelson was off and running.

Given a clean bill of health, Fowler will make his 43rd professional major start at the 2021 Masters. By then he’ll be 32 years old, and it certainly feels like he’ll have at least one major trophy to his name.

But what if he goes 0-for next year, or the year after? What if he heads into a new decade still answering the same questions and living vicariously through the success of his friends and peers?

The math cuts both ways. The odds are in Fowler’s favor that he will win a major over any extended period of time, but the odds will always be against him in a single given week. The pressure to buck the latter half of that proposition mounts with each close call, especially after a year in which he had realistic chances in three of the four majors but came up empty.

Questions about Fowler’s ability to win on a big stage were answered emphatically with his electrifying close at the 2015 Players Championship. He displayed it again Sunday, when he torched the back nine at Quail Hollow with four birdies in a row to race up the leaderboard, only to find the hole he had dug during the third round was too big to overcome.

“Fowler has what it takes,” Ben Crane tweeted as the engraver began carving “Thomas” onto the Wanamaker. “Won’t be this one, but he’s gonna close out a major someday. 32 on the back in contention is what champions do.”

The damage inflicted by his three-hole stumble to close out the third round proved costly. Fowler chalked up those errors to unusually poor putts during a good putting week and a wind shift at the wrong time, just as he lamented that he simply didn’t convert chances during the final round at Erin Hills that might have helped him keep pace with Brooks Koepka.

After a final-round 76 at the Masters, he described a short game that “went sideways” on him at a critical juncture.

They’re all rational explanations, and they speak to how difficult it is to put every facet together when the lights are shining the brightest. But they also serve to ratchet up the pressure that Fowler will face the next time he works his way within arm’s reach of the trophy.

On Sunday at the PGA, Fowler was happy for his friend. When it’s his turn to hole the final putt on the 72nd green, the receiving line could stretch for miles.

But he won’t have a chance to see that play out for at least another eight months, and the questions could very well linger longer than that. If they do, the pressure to finally be the man in the middle of the celebration will only intensify.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.