Being Rickie Fowler

By Jason SobelJuly 10, 2011, 3:46 pm

When covering PGA Tour events, credentialed media members without official photo badges aren't allowed to snap pictures. But I couldn't help myself.

It was Saturday of last month’s Memorial Tournament and Rickie Fowler had just finished his round. Amongst a sea of single-digit handicap junior players and wide-eyed teenyboppers all clad in the golfer's favorite creamsicle orange was a middle-aged man. Like his younger peers, he was dressed as if ready for a Fowler-only costume party, his rather large gut protruding from beneath his Puma golf shirt, his head topped by the increasingly iconic flat-bill cap.

So yeah, I took a pic. Couldn't help myself. Sue me, PGA Tour.

The objective of this story isn't to get me in trouble. It's to illustrate a point.

Everybody loves Rickie.

Or so it would seem.

Fowler has quickly become a fan favorite, pushing Phil Mickelson for the unofficial weekly autograph request title, but it’s his lack of another title that has presented detractors in the social media world.

“For the most part, people at tournaments and out watching me play, they’re watching for a reason. I’ve never really had a specific time at a tournament where I’ve had any negative comments from a fan,” Fowler explains. “The people that are saying things or bashing me aren’t the same ones who are at tournaments.”

I can vouch for him. Following last week’s AT&T National, where Fowler parlayed a share of the 54-hole lead into a tie for 13th place, my own Twitter feed was flooded with posts from those taking issue with his game … or his ability to close … or his image … or, well, anything…

Will the golf media ever realize Fowler isn't as good as they want him to be?

Is Rickie Fowler the Natalie Gulbis of mens golf? Colorful outfits, sexy but no wins??

Rickie Fowler: Good golfer for a dirt bike rider or the real deal?

What is it with Fowler? Does he not have mental game to handle lead on Sunday?

I know he's only in his second year, but why does everyone think Rickie Fowler is the next great thing?

Sheesh, being a 22-year-old superstar-golfer-in-the-making isn’t all it’s cracked up to be these days. Especially if you’re a 22-year-old superstar-golfer-in-the-making and you haven’t won anything yet. With his eight-shot U.S. Open victory, Rory McIlroy raised the bar for early success, leaving fellow youngster Fowler left to answer questions about so-called underachievements.

After all, in a season-and-a-half as a PGA Tour member, all Fowler has accomplished is three top-three finishes and nine top-10s in 44 starts, while making the cut in three of four majors and playing nervy golf on foreign soil at the Ryder Cup. Rather than praise his performance, though, many have taken to calling him out for the one thing he’s failed to do thus far: Win.

If he worked on Capitol Hill, the critics would be considered dissenters. If he was a preacher, they’d be nonbelievers.

Instead, Fowler has just one word to describe those who think he’s overrated and oversold.

Haters.

“They’re always going to be around,” he says. “You see it on Twitter quite a bit. It’s funny because it just depends on how you deal with them or don’t deal with them. It can bother a guy, but we talk about it. I’ve mentioned it with [Ian] Poulter and Bubba [Watson], what kind of tweets we get from the haters. It’s something we laugh about. We don’t want to let it get to us.”

We have entered a new age of fandom. Fifty years ago, if you wanted to state your case about the game’s next potential great paling in comparison to his predecessors, you’d have to personally confront Jack Nicklaus and call him “Fat Jack” to his face – a daunting proposition if there ever was one.

With the advent of social media, though, anyone with a smartphone or computer can make their opinions known – often in complete anonymity – a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Fowler.

“People are going to come up with the most random things,” Fowler says. “If someone says something bad, there’s always that nice little ‘block’ button.”

For as much as the in-person worship seems a bit uneven for a player who has yet to win a tournament, the online animosity toward him for the very same reason feels disproportionate, as well. Of course, the latter is a direct correlation of the former. The more Fowler is adulated by the press and idolized by the public, the more those “haters” resent the notion that his performance has yet to live up to his potential.

Such vehemence certainly has little to do with Fowler’s personality. He may dress flashy, but he leads the Tour in “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am” responses. Like his friend McIlroy, he is a self-made kid from a modest background. And also like Rory, he deals with adversity in the most endearing way possible.

When McIlroy turned a Masters lead going into the back nine on Sunday into a 15th-place finish, he saved face and earned support with his post-round perspective: “This is my first experience at it, and hopefully the next time I'm in this position I'll be able to handle it a little better.”

Granted, it was a smaller event and therefore less disappointing, but Fowler’s words after losing the AT&T were eerily familiar: “Just a tough day, but I learned a lot. It was great to be in that position. You know, it's good to see what other guys do in the same situation and how they handle themselves.”

The similarities between their reactions weren’t just a coincidence, either.

“To see what he went through, obviously it was multiplied by a good amount and tougher to deal with than mine, because he had a decisive lead at the Masters and I was tied for the lead at a normal Tour event,” Fowler says, “but seeing how he handled it and went on to play at the U.S. Open, I felt I was in a similar position and had to take the positives from the week.”

“I think it’s very important to deal with it that way,” says Fowler’s caddie Joe Skovron. “It’s a process and you keep learning from it. That’s what makes guys like Rickie and Rory so good. They take it and deal with it and then move on. They don’t think about what they missed out on. Just go try to play better and win the next one.”

The next one comes this week at Royal St. George’s, site of the Open Championship. In his first start at the world’s most venerable tournament, Fowler finished in a share of 14th place last year. He would love to follow in McIlroy’s footsteps, erasing a setback by clinching that elusive victory.

If he doesn’t, Fowler will still have hordes of fans following his every move, craning for a glimpse of him and begging for autographs while the haters continue to post their doubts in the virtual world. And if he does? Those throngs of orange-clad supporters will grow even bigger and the haters may finally be silenced – for a little while, at least.

Getty Images

Rose tries to ignore scenarios, focus on winning

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:59 am

ATLANTA – No one has more to play for than Justin Rose on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

The Englishman will begin the day three strokes behind front-runner Tiger Woods after a third-round 68 that could have been much worse after he began his day with back-to-back bogeys.

Winning the tournament will be Rose’s top priority, but there’s also the lingering question of the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus, which he is currently projected to claim.


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“The way I look at tomorrow is that I have many scenarios in play. I have the FedExCup in play. I have all of that to distract me,” Rose said. “But yet, I'm three back. I think that's my objective tomorrow is to come out and play good, positive golf and try and chase down the leader and win this golf tournament. I think in some ways that'll help my other task of trying to win the FedExCup. It'll keep me on the front foot and playing positive golf.”

Although there are many scenarios for Rose to win the season-long title, if Woods wins the Tour Championship, Rose would need to finish fifth or better to claim the cup.

There’s also the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to consider. Rose overtook Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. He will retain the top spot unless Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Johnson win the finale and he falls down the leaderboard on Sunday.

Getty Images

McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:29 am

ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.

Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.

“I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.

The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.

McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.

“I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”

Getty Images

Glover trails Straka at Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2018, 12:19 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Web.com Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.

With the top 25 earners in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.

''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''

Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Web.com Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.

''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.

''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''

Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.

McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.

The series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

Getty Images

Woods' dominance evokes an old, familiar feeling

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:14 am

ATLANTA – It felt so familiar – the roars, the fist pumps, the frenzied scramble to keep up with a leaderboard that was quickly tilting in Tiger Woods’ direction.

For the handful of players who were around when Woods made a mysterious and maddening game seem simple, it was like old times, times that weren’t necessarily good for anyone not named Tiger.

“I’m kind of nostalgic,” admitted Paul Casey, who turned pro in 2000, when Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, one of his nine PGA Tour victories that year.

Casey’s 66 on Day 3 at the Tour Championship vaulted him into a tie for sixth place, but as the Englishman quickly vetted the math he knew those numbers were nothing more than window dressing.

“Sixty-four is my best on a Sunday which puts me at 11 [under], so if he’s 12 I need to shoot my career best in the final round and he needs to do something very un-Tiger-like,” Casey laughed. “I think I’m just posturing for position.”

Casey wasn’t giving up. In fact, given that he outdueled Woods earlier this year to win the Valspar Championship he could have hedged his comments and left the door cracked however slightly. But he’s seen, and heard, this too many times to allow competitive necessity to cloud reality.

On Saturday at East Lake, Tiger Woods was his best version. Throughout this most recent comeback he’s offered glimpses of the old guy, the guy whose name atop a leaderboard echoed through locker rooms for the better part of two decades. After starting the day tied for the lead with Justin Rose, Tiger quickly separated himself from the pack with a birdie at the first.

He added another at the third and by the time he birdied the seventh hole, his sixth birdie of the day, he’d extended that lead to five shots and was sending an unmistakable message that reached well beyond the steamy confines of East Lake.


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


This was what so many had waited for. This was the Tiger that Casey and others grew up dreading, a machine that never misses iron shots and makes clutch putts look like tap-ins.

“The crowds were electric,” said Rose, who was paired with Woods. “He was running the tables there. He was hitting good shots and making the conversion putts.”

Woods did come back to earth after his blistering start, playing his final 10 holes in 1 over par, but that did little to change the mood as the season moved to within 18 holes of the finish line.

He would finish with a round-of-the-day 65 for a three-stroke lead over Rose and Rory McIlroy. The next closest players were a dozen strokes back, including Casey at 5 under par who didn’t need to be reminded of Woods’ 54-hole conversion rate.

There are no guarantees in sports but Tiger with a 54-hole lead has been about as close to a lock as one will find this side of Las Vegas. He’s 42-for-44 when going into the final round with the outright lead and the last time he blew a 54-hole lead was at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Of course, he hasn’t had a 54-hole lead since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Truth is, he hasn’t had much of anything since ’13 when his dominance was sidetracked by an ailing back. As intimidating as Woods’ play has been this week there was an unmistakable sense of, let’s call it curiosity.

Asked if Woods’ lead felt different than it may have a decade ago, Rose’s response was telling. “Maybe,” he allowed after a pause. “It's a little more unknown now. Obviously his history, his statistics from this point are impeccable. They're incredible. But he's human, and there's a lot on it for him tomorrow, as well as the rest of us.”

Rose wasn’t trying to trick himself into thinking the impossible was possible, although many have when they’ve found themselves in similar positions, it was simply the truth. Woods has had multiple chances this season to complete the comeback and he’s come up short each time.

It was a poor iron shot off the 72nd tee at the Valspar Championship and an even worse drive a week later at Bay Hill’s 16th hole. It was a misplayed chip late on the back nine at The Open and a collection of missed putts at the PGA Championship, although in his defense it’s unlikely anyone could have caught Brooks Koepka at Bellerive.

Nor was Rose being disrespectful. It’s simple math, really, and Woods’ body of work to this point, although wildly impressive considering how far he’s come in 12 months both physically and competitively, paints a clear picture. Given multiple chances to break through the victory ceiling he’s failed to deliver the way he did before injury and multiple back procedures.

“I've felt very comfortable when I got into the mix there at Tampa even though it was very early in my start to this year. And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill, (and) when I grabbed the lead at The Open Championship,” Woods said. “Things that didn't really feel abnormal, even though it's been years, literally years, since I've been in those spots, but I think I've been in those spots enough times that muscle memory, I guess I remembered it, and I felt comfortable in those spots.”

In many ways the script couldn’t have been written any better for Woods. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs and the bases are loaded for the 14-time major champion. Hero time, his time.

He’s been here so many times in his career and succeeded more times than not, and this new, reimagined version has the ultimate chance to complete what would arguably be the greatest comeback in sports history.

The ultimate test still remains, but for 18 holes on Saturday it felt so familiar.