JERSEY CITY, N.J. – If you’re of the normal variety in life, you can get to the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building.
But if you’re Rickie Fowler and you’re part of a select group that has special dispensation, you go one floor higher.
The thing is, 103 stories above New York City – it was a promotional show to trumpet this week’s PGA Tour FedEx Cup playoff opener – was tame. Didn’t faze him at all. In fact, he’d like to go higher and higher . . . and then jump.
“I still want to go skydiving,” Fowler said.
There was a conviction in the tone of his voice, almost as if Fowler – though he has earned more than $10 million in the tame world of golf – needs a bigger charge, a greater rush of adrenaline. In fact, to heck with skydiving, Fowler pulled out his phone and showed off something he really, really wants to do.
“I want to ride the wingsuit,” Fowler said, and he showed a videoclip of what that looks like. In a word, outrageous. Another that comes to mind, insane.
Yet it’s clear that Fowler was taken by the way this daredevil – a fellow member of the Red Bull team – handled himself, gliding through a mountainous gorge. If the average person saw only danger, Fowler saw the thrill in every bit of it.
“Rickie’s into that crazy stuff,” Keegan Bradley said as he walked by, shaking his head. Each of them had just concluded 36 holes at 7 under in The Barclays, Fowler establishing a competitive record at Liberty National with a 64, but Bradley coming in two groups later to shoot 8-under 63 – but they have different slants on seeking thrills outside of golf.
There was a time when Bradley was a passionate downhill skier – “The most dangerous sport in the world,” he said – but he’s toned down a bit. He’ll do some whitewater rafting while on a fishing trip, but Bradley said Fowler can have the skydiving and wingsuit stuff.
“He likes that whole scene,” said Bradley.
Indeed, Fowler does, and he seemed to like the suggestion that he celebrate his 25th birthday next May by skydiving. “It’s just a matter of getting the Red Bull guys together,” he said, a wide smile on his face.
But it’s not like his passion to seek new challenges will stop there. No, sir. In fact, Fowler confirmed that he’s contemplating a move that could be considered daring for him, given his golf-playing history. Having been devoted to the one teacher who taught him the game and nurtured his swing – the late Barry McDonnell, who died in May of 2011 – Fowler said he’s given serious thought to enlisting a swing coach.
“I’ve worked with a couple of guys, here (on the road) and at home, just trying to keep everything very simple,” Fowler said. “I’m heading toward a direction where I want to see my swing and my game get to the next level, to be the best player I can be.”
It’s no secret that one of the coaches to whom Fowler turned for some questions is Butch Harmon, but there have been others.
“I just wake up and go figure it out on the range, but I could see myself getting a little more serious (and hiring a swing coach) in the next year or two. It’s not out of the question,” Fowler said, though he emphasized that there’s no rush. He still gets great mileage out of his friend and caddie, Joe Skovron, who knew McDonnell and serves as Fowler’s eyes.
But the foundation that was poured by McDonnell still serves Fowler very well, thank you, and you need look no further than the eagle and six birdies he made – after he had come back early to finish off a first-round 71.
Halfway home at 7-under 135, Fowler was two behind the clubhouse leader, Webb Simpson (67-66–133), but with Liberty National softened considerably, a long line of marquee names were licking their chops and firing away. Bradley and Adam Scott (66) were also at 135, Sergio Garcia (66) was at 136, and having been assigned a twilight round, Tiger Woods stood 6 under at the turn. There is, as they say, a lot of golf to be played, and besides, Fowler is focused mostly on his status. It’s a time of year he hasn’t quite come to master, this FedEx Cup playoff stuff, and he figures now is a good time to do so.
At 42nd in the standings, it’s the lowest Fowler has been headed into the playoffs in his brief PGA Tour career. But given that he fell from 18th to 28th a year ago, 28th to 43rd in 2011, and 19th to 32nd in 2010, Fowler is looking to turn the tables on that trend.
“This is the first time I’ve actually been coming in kind of moving forward with my game into the playoffs,” he said. “Every year I feel like I’ve been just kind of trying to hold on and finish off the year.”
If Friday means anything, perhaps Fowler is about to change his playoff fortunes.
His long and explosive second day, coming after a long and disjointed first day – thank you, Mother Nature – is all part of life in the big leagues. Fowler is young and able to roll with it, but he preferred Friday’s marathon session that featured 30 holes of golf for some players over Thursday’s rain-interrupted silliness.
“You can get worn out sitting around,” Fowler said.
And clearly, he’s not the type to sit around. More likely, he’s the type to go fly around.