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.

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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.

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Noren so impressed by Rory: 'I'm about to quit golf'

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 5:33 pm

Alex Noren won the BMW PGA Championship last year, one of his nine career European Tour victories.

He opened his title defense at Wentworth Club in 68-69 and is tied for fourth through two rounds. Unfortunately, he's five back of leader Rory McIlroy. And after playing the first two days alongside McIlroy, Noren, currently ranked 19th in the world, doesn't seem to like his chances of back-to-back wins.

McIlroy opened in 67 and then shot a bogey-free 65 in second round, which included pars on the pair of par-5 finishing holes. Noren walked away left in awe.

"That's the best round I've ever seen," Noren said. "I'm about to quit golf, I think."

Check out the full interview below:

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Bubba gets to drive dream car: K.I.T.T. from 'Knight Rider'

By Grill Room TeamMay 25, 2018, 4:42 pm

Bubba Watson is a known car aficionado.

He purchased the original General Lee from the 1980’s TV show “Dukes of Hazzard” – later saying he was going to paint over the Confederate flag on the vehicle’s roof.

He also auctioned off his 1939 Cadillac LaSalle C-Hawk custom roadster and raised $410,000 for Birdies for the Brave.

He showed off images of his off-road Jeep two years ago.

And he even bought a car dealership near his hometown of Milton, Fla.

While recently appearing on the TV show “Jay Leno’s Garage,” the former “Tonight Show” host surprised Watson with another one of his dream cars: K.I.T.T.

The 1982 Pontiac Trans Am was made famous in the ‘80s action show “Knight Rider.”

Though, Bubba didn’t get to keep this one, he did get to drive it.

Bubba Watson gets behind the wheel of his dream car—the KITT from Knight Rider from CNBC.

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Cut Line: USGA readies for Shinnecock 'mulligan'

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 3:26 pm

In this week’s Memorial weekend edition, the European team adheres to the Ryder Cup secret formula, the USGA readies for the ultimate mulligan at next month’s U.S. Open and a bizarre finish at the Florida Mid-Am mystifies the Rules of Golf.

Made Cut

Cart golf. When the U.S. side announced the creation of a Ryder Cup task force following the American loss at Gleneagles in 2014, some Europeans privately – and publicly – snickered.

The idea that the secret sauce could be found in a meeting room did stretch the bounds of reason, yet two years later the U.S. team emerged as winners at Hazeltine National and suddenly the idea of a task force, which is now called a committee, didn’t seem so silly.

To Europe’s credit, they’ve always accomplished this cohesion organically, pulling together their collective knowledge with surprising ease, like this week when European captain Thomas Bjorn rounded out his vice captain crew.

Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald (a group that has a combined 47-40-13 record in the matches) were all given golf cart keys and will join Robert Karlsson as vice captains this year in Paris.

Perhaps it took the Americans a little longer to figure out, but Bjorn knows it’s continuity that wins Ryder Cups.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

The USGA’s mulligan. The U.S. Open is less than a month away and with it one of the most anticipated returns in recent major championship history.

The last time the national championship was played at Shinnecock Hills was in 2004 and things didn’t go well, particularly on Sunday when play had to be stopped to water some greens that officials deemed had become unplayable. This week USGA executive director Mike Davis was asked about the association’s last trip to the Hamptons and, to his credit, he didn’t attempt to reinvent history.

“Looking back at 2004, and at parts of that magnificent day with Retief (Goosen) and Phil Mickelson coming down to the end, there are parts that we learned from,” Davis said. “I’m happy we got a mulligan this time. We probably made a bogey last time, maybe a double bogey.”

Put another way, players headed to next month’s championship should look forward to what promises to be a Bounce Back Open.

Tweet of the week:

Homa joined a chorus of comments following Aaron Wise’s victory on Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson, which included an awkward moment when his girlfriend, Reagan Trussell, backed away as Wise was going in for a kiss.

“No hard feelings at all,” Wise clarified this week. “We love each other a ton and we're great. It was a funny moment that I think we'll always be able to look back at, but that's all it really was.”

Missed Cut

Strength of field. The European Tour gathers this week in England for the circuit’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and like the PGA Tour’s marquee stop, The Players, the event appears headed for a new spot on the calendar next year.

As the PGA Tour inches closer to announcing the 2018-19 schedule, which will feature countless new twists and turns including the PGA Championship’s move to May and The Players shift back to March, it also seems likely the makeover will impact the European Tour schedule.

Although the BMW PGA currently draws a solid field, with this week’s event sporting a higher strength of field than the Fort Worth Invitational on the PGA Tour, it’s likely officials won’t want to play the event a week after the PGA Championship (which is scheduled for May 16-19 next year).

In fact, it’s been rumored that the European Tour could move all eight of its Rolex Series events, which are billed as “unmissable sporting occasions,” out of the FedExCup season window, which will end on Aug. 25 next year.

Although the focus has been on how the new PGA Tour schedule will impact the U.S. sports calendar, the impact of the dramatic makeover stretches will beyond the Lower 48.

Rules of engagement. For a game that at times seems to struggle with too much small print and antiquated rules, it’s hard to understand how things played out earlier this month at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship.

In a story first reported by, Jeff Golden claimed he was assaulted on May 13 by Brandon Hibbs – the caddie for his opponent, Marc Dull, in the championship’s final match. Golden told police that Hibbs struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.

The incident occurred during a weather delay and Golden conceded the match to Dull after the altercation, although he wrote in a post on Twitter this week that he was disappointed with the Florida State Golf Association’s decision to accept his concession.

“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”

Because of the conflicting statements, it’s still not clear what exactly happened that day at Coral Creek Club, but the No. 1 rule in golf – protecting the competition and the competitors – seems to have fallen well short.

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Watch: Pieters snaps club ... around his neck

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 1:19 pm

After opening in 3-over 75, Thomas Pieters was in no mood for more poor play on Friday.

Unfortunately for Pieters, he bogeyed two of his first three holes in the second round of the BMW PGA Championship and then didn't like his second shot at the par-5 fourth.

Someone - or some thing - had to pay, and an innocent iron bore the brunt of Pieters' anger.

Pieters made par on the hole, but at 5 over for the tournament, he was five shots off the cut line.

It's not the first time a club has faced Pieters' wrath.