In little more than two years as a professional, Rickie Fowler has appeared in Tiger Woods’ video game, a feature-length film and a music video. No one will say Fowler, a favorite of fans and media, has received too little exposure.
And yet, the biggest moment of his career was nowhere to be found Sunday on TV.
The fact that Fowler’s first professional victory, at the OneAsia circuit’s Korea Open, wasn’t broadcast in the United States shouldn’t lessen its significance. He wrapped up his six-shot win over Rory McIlroy before many Americans woke up Sunday morning.
After his victory, Fowler tweeted, “First win…@KOLONKOREAOPEN feels really good!! Now time to get my first on the @PGATOUR!!”
Fowler, who’s twice failed to convert a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, led after each round in Korea. He pulled four shots ahead of the field with a third-round 64, then finishing things off with a closing 68.
No, the Korea Open wasn’t the strongest tournament this week. Yes, Fowler needs to win on the PGA Tour to appease his critics. But the fact that Fowler so handily defeated McIlroy on Sunday adds something to his accomplishment.
McIlroy and Fowler are friendly rivals, dating to their time as foes in the 2007 Walker Cup. McIlroy’s victories on the European and PGA tours, including this year’s U.S. Open, have overshadowed Fowler’s early accomplishments.
There’s no doubt that victories are important. No one is voted into the Hall of Fame for fifth-place finishes. Winning is becoming a rarer and rarer accomplishment for all players, though. Even the top players are doing so less often. No one has won more than twice this season on the PGA Tour.
And for that reason, focusing solely on victories can cause us to overlook other metrics. By all other measures, on and off the course, Fowler has been a success.
At just 22, he’s already firmly established himself in the world’s top 50 and has earned more than $2 million in each of his first two PGA Tour seasons. His unique style of dress and play have quickly made him one of the PGA Tour’s most popular players, the type whose fame extends beyond golf circles.
Fans of all ages wear Fowler’s flat-brimmed Puma hat. His all-orange Sunday outfit has become the game’s most recognizable fashion statement since Tiger Woods’ red shirts.
PGA Tour players usually aren’t quick to accept players who arrive on Tour to much hype. That’s not true of Fowler. His clothing may be bright and brash, but his genuine nature has earned the respect of his PGA Tour peers.
“I’ve been saying it for years and I’ll say it again,” Bo Van Pelt told Golfweek’s Jim McCabe earlier this year. “As great a player as he is, he’s even a better person.”
Big things have been expected of Fowler for many years. He shot 62 as a freshman to win the Southern California high-school championship. He made the 2007 Walker Cup team before his first year at Oklahoma State. He lost a Nationwide Tour playoff in 2009 while still an amateur, then lost in a similar manner on the PGA Tour shortly after turning pro.
Fowler has fallen short in several chances to win his first PGA Tour event. He was tied for the 54-hole lead at this year’s AT&T National and contended in the final round of this year’s Open Championship. Yes, he eventually needs to win on the PGA Tour, but it’s safe to deem Fowler a success in the meantime. His Korea Open win confirms that.
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