Tiger Woods made golf ‘cool’ and now Rickie Fowler—with his street style, loud colours and flat-billed baseball cap—is breaking down the last of golf’s fuddy duddy connotations. And he’s got the game to match
The most eye-popping moment in golf for 2015 came earlier this month at the Player’s Championship and it had nothing to do with the closely-fought finish. Not that the game didn’t warrant it: Rickie Fowler’s incredible final-day birdie blitz on the last six holes, and the ensuing playoff, definitely qualifies as one of the most thrilling tournament finishes ever seen at the prestigious ‘fifth major’. But it was the long (no other way to put it really) and passionate kiss that Fowler shared with his girlfriend, model Alexis Randock, on the 17th green on Sunday—after draining yet another birdie to win the playoff—that really blew the lights out. No one would have batted an eyelid if the occasion had been, say, the X Games, or a surfing competition, but this was one of the oldest and the richest ($10-million) tournament in all of golf.
At that moment, far away from the venue in Ponte Vedra (Florida), I would have loved to be a fly on the wall of the clubhouse at Augusta National in Georgia. Just a few weeks back, the Fowler-Randock romance had got a fair bit of attention here when the Masters was being played—Randock, sportingly caddied for Fowler at the par-3 tournament preceding the main event. Now, the members of America’s most hallowed club must have been huddled around the telly when Fowler wrapped up the tournament and Randock in one rapturous go. It wasn’t the perfunctory girlfriend embrace either—probably close to 30 seconds of air time. Let’s just say it’s not something Augusta National members—who voted to finally let in women members as recently as 2012 (the club now has three lady members!)—are used to seeing on a golf course. There was probably a sigh of relief that Fowler didn’t win the Masters! In any case, given the way he’s playing, he’s certainly going to give it a shot over the next few years.
Fowler has always been a popular figure, prominent in the media, and possibly the only playing pro whose legions of fans land up for events dressed like him. His trademark orange attire, which he usually dons on the final day of tournament play—complete with the flat-billed baseball cap—is the kind of skateboard street bling that’s never been seen on a golf course before. His gen-next appeal is only too manifest in the composition of the galleries that follow him: really young kids comprise the majority. This is exactly what the sport needs, especially in America where the game’s popularity has, in fact, been declining over the past few years. Given that, it’s not surprising that there’s a tinge of envy amongst his peers who recently voted him as one of the two most ‘over-rated players on tour’ (Ian Poulter was the other). If that anonymous poll riled Fowler—who had only won once on the PGA Tour till last month—he didn’t let it show: “I’m okay, just going to go about my business and I’ll be fine,” he said when quizzed on his reaction on the second day of the Player’s.
The business side of things began pretty late for Fowler at the tournament. When it became apparent that the Player’s was headed for a last-gasp finish with 10 or so players within a couple of shots of the lead and less than nine holes to go on the final day, the tournament telecast was focused on Sergio Garcia. The crucial moment came when Fowler, faced with a 240-yard second shot over water at the par-5 16th hole, hit what is probably the shot of the year. The ball cleared the hazard by a whisker and finished a couple of feet from the hole, setting up an easy eagle. Fowler then birdied the next two holes, including the signature island-green 17th to get into the three-way three-man playoff with John Kisner and Garcia.
Garcia was the first one to bow out after three holes during which Fowler again birdied the 17th. Back to the tee for sudden death, and Fowler stuck it to within 4ft to set up the birdie—the fourth time he birdied the hole on the day—and the win. Just in case you’re wondering, Fowler played his last 10 holes—including the four in the playoff—nine-under-par powered by seven birdies and that incredible eagle. It was an unprecedented performance—a stretch of consistent brilliance by a player whose homemade and unorthodox swing has always been criticised for not holding up at key moments in the past. Fowler has been working with well-known coach Bruce Harmon for a few months now, and his swing, while still very unique, seems a bit less radical.
His swing might just be the only element that Fowler would probably be open to changing. You’re not going to see him in staid tweeds anytime soon. It’s not just the attire either—though he’s polite to a fault, there’s a brash element to Fowler. And unlike all the younger players on the PGA Tour—including the new ‘Golden Boy’ of golf, Masters-winner Jordan Spieth—he isn’t likely to conform to golf’s slightly old-school notions of attire and public demeanour.
This is the same guy who may never have played professional golf, had an accident that forced him to quit professional motocross riding—which he was, not surprisingly, also very good at. But no one told him about the other trappings of golf, and he’s not subscribing. While the rest of the PGA Tour moved on to the Wells Fargo Championship, Fowler did exactly what everyone expected him to do: take Randock for a vacation to the Bahamas. If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game