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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Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2018, 9:54 pm

Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET

Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.

“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.



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Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

She wondered if there would be resentment.

She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

He waved Lincicome over.

“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

What are Lincicome’s expectations?

She would love to make the cut, but . . .

“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”