In what the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee called “the most shocking play I have seen in 2010,” Rickie Fowler decided to lay up on the par-5, 15th hole at TPC Scottsdale last Sunday. At that point, he was one stroke behind Hunter Mahan, the eventual champion. With 231 yards out, Fowler would have needed to hit about a 3 iron from the fairway and carry it 210 yards over the water. His two playing partners went for the green and they were further out than him. So, why on earth would the fearless 21-year-old Boy That Will Save the PGA Tour wearing neon orange pants take the safe approach?
I kind of told myself that I didn’t really want to go for it unless I had about a 5-iron in, which I would feel more comfortable hitting it to that pin with the pin being in the front. It’s not very wide. The miss right and the miss left, obviously there’s water, but missing the green right or left, the up-and-down wasn’t very easy. So I felt giving myself that wedge from the middle of the fairway was my best chance at making an easy birdie.
Now I hope he wasn’t thinking about actually hitting it in the water. And I really hope he wasn’t thinking about the difference between a second place paycheck and perhaps a third or fourth, as the Golf Channel commentators suggested. I’ll give him that it would have been a tough chip, but conditions were soft — he could have controlled it. Look at his approach on the 17th, where he had a tough pitch into the green and took a gutsy shot.
It’s hard to argue with Fowler’s explanation, but it seemed out of character for him to make the safe play. When Tim Clark laid up a few weeks ago at the Bob Hope, at least he stuck by his game plan. But Fowler? He’s the daredevil who used to perform all sorts of crazy tricks on a dirt bike.
Fowler is sticking to his guns about the decision. He’s even getting a little (gulp) defensive on Twitter (start from bottom):
If he had dunked it in the water, that would have been a straight-up choke. So I guess if he was even thinking that was an option, it’s a good thing he played it safe. His best club is a wedge and like he told the Golf Channel afterward, he wishes he could re-hit his approach shot, which spun a few feet off the green. No, it doesn’t make him a moron that he felt more comfortable hitting a little wedge from his best distance.
But would Tiger or Phil have laid up? They would have scoffed at the very thought.