Monday Scramble: Rickie Fowler unplugged
Welcome to the Monday Scramble. It’s been a crazy couple weeks for us here, watching how quickly Rickie Fowler has turned into a PGA Tour titan.
It’s only a titanic achievement, of course, racking up $553,700 in just two weeks on Tour and forcing the Golf Channel to run graphics that show your smiling mug shot adjacent one of hearthrob/Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio.
Not to make your hearts sink like a steamship, ladies, but you should know that Fowler was driving his girlfriend to the airport Sunday evening when we spoke to him after his playoff loss at the Frys.com Open, where he played the first five holes of his final round in 5 under, including a hole-in-one.
“I haven’t heard it myself,” Fowler said about the Golf Channel’s Leo look-a-like contest, “but I’ve heard that (comparison) before.”
And as far as being the “PGA Tour’s answer to the Jonas Brothers,” as one Golf Channel announcer put it during Sunday’s broadcast?
What, you don’t have their CD?
“Yeah, uh... I don’t have any of their songs.”
There’s only one correct way to rate Fowler’s popularity, actually: Ask one of his friends. According to a text message from one of his former Oklahoma State teammates Sunday, the list of pop culture icons all of a sudden goes something like “Lil’ Wayne, then Rickie Fowler.”
Truth is, Fowler seems to have the same wild-haired head on his shoulders that he did when we first met him years ago when he started playing American Junior Golf Association events.
It’s just that instead of driving a rental PT Crusier to the AJGA’s Rolex Tournament of Champions banquet at Hiwan Golf Club outside Denver, he can now drive over the Rocky Mountains in his welcome gift from sponsor Puma – a tricked-out, motocross-inspired golf cart that features a roll cage, off-road tires, push bar and “state-of-the-art” stereo system.
After all, he is “Golf 2.0,” (as he’s been dubbed by his management company, SFX), has a face built for Hollywood and so far makes a hole-in-one in every other Tour event he plays.
He is the next big thing, covered in flourescent Pumas, whether he likes it or not, and that’s just something that comes with about as much hype as you can fit into a 30-minute pregame show or the entire golf blogosphere.
We’re not sure if you’ve heard, but Rickie Fowler will:
- Win next week at the Viking Classic
- Win the British Open next year at St. Andrews
- Make Rory McIlory cry
- Pull the U.S. economy out of the recession, and
- Help Lindsay Lohan turn her life around and win a Nobel Peace Prize.
Which is just another way of saying there are already distractions around ever turn for the 20-year-old Fowler, and he just chooses to not pay attention.
Those who know Fowler know that’s nothing new. He continues to play golf just like he always has, quickly, aggressively, passionately, brilliantly.
“I don’t really think about all that too much,” Fowler, not long removed from being the top-ranked players in both college and amateur golf, said of the distractions that come with turning pro and experiencing early success.
“I’ve kind of had to deal with (high expectations) on different levels, so I wasn’t worried too much about the outside stuff.”
Yes, he’s human, and there was a time last fall, at the beginning of his sophomore (and what would turn out to be final) college season that Fowler struggled with expectations and saw his game suffer some of the consequences. But he worked hard with Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw to get back to “playing stress-free golf,” Fowler golf, the type of golf you’ve seen him play the last two weeks. Fast and furious, feeling the shot and going with it and being perfectly fine with the result.
“My game is better than what it was in college,” said Fowler, who capped his amateur career in September with an undefeated performance for the United States at the Walker Cup at Merion. “I haven’t really been doing anything special, I’m just keeping it in front of me and I’m just making up for my mistakes a little better.”
So if you question Fowler’s grip-it-and-rip-it routine, even when it comes to a tough approach shot from a downhill lie in the rough or 40-yard bunker shot on 18 with a PGA Tour victory on the line, as it happened Sunday, you just don’t know him well enough yet.
Oh, but you will.
Fowler said the success we’re seeing now started building this summer at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational, where he lost in a playoff to Derek Lamely. Fowler had posted good rounds here and there in a few PGA Tour appearances, including two U.S. Opens, but not four in a row.
“If you can do it once, you can do it four times in a row,” he said, “but I was never able to put those four rounds together until that Nationwide event.”
For those keeping track at home, he’s now up to eight in a row.
Funny to think it was only three years ago that Fowler and his friend Jamie Lovemark – you know, the weekend’s other runner-up who has figured out a way to bounce golf balls in and out of water hazards, as he did in the playoff on No. 18 Sunday – both tied for seventh at the American Junior Golf Association’s Thunderbird International, which is also played at Grayhawk. (The year before, Lovemark also rinsed a shot on No. 18 to lose in a playoff.)
“I remember it,” Fowler said. “That was cool.”
Lovemark, who was a grade ahead of Fowler, went on to have one of the best freshman seasons in college golf history at Southern California, winning the NCAA Championship and about every postseason award possible. He also played in four Tour events before missing a cut, even drawing comparisons to a schoolboy Phil Mickelson.
Despite some struggles and injuries over the last year and a half, Lovemark is just as good a bet as Fowler to win 10 majors over the next 10 years.
However, he’s much more reserved, doesn’t care much for interviews, has shorter hair and doesn’t really have that new car smell, which just isn’t as appetizing to the hype monsters.
Fowler’s got style, as he has been wearing white belts for years, long before the craze hit the Tour. His hair is cool and crazy and can get even crazier, as we found out at the 2006 AJGA Canon Cup. He plays fast, he used to compete at motocross (his father is a champion), and he is one of the most courteous, level-headed kids we’ve met coming out of amateur golf, which means he will sign autographs into the moonlight if it becomes necessary.
And let’s face it, “Rickie” is just more fun to say.
It’s even better than “Leo.”