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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How to watch The Open on TV and online

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:40 am

You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on  

Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; or check the GLE app)

Monday, July 16

GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (

GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (

GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (

Tuesday, July 17

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

Wednesday, July 18

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

Thursday, July 19

GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (

GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

Friday, July 20

GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

Saturday, July 21

GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (

Sunday, July 22

GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM ( Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (

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The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:30 am

Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

How old is it?

It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

Where is it played?

There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

Where will it be played this year?

At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

Who has won The Open on that course?

Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

Who has won this event the most?

Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

What about the Morrises?

Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

Have players from any particular country dominated?

In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

Who is this year's defending champion?

That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

What is the trophy called?

The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

Which Opens have been the most memorable?

Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.