Rickie Fowler told the media earlier this week at the Wells Fargo Championship that his first PGA Tour win was in the near future. Just a few days later, the 23-year-old golfer walked into the interview room, sat down, and said, smiling, “I told you guys it was coming soon.”
He won in style — no, I’m not talking about his all-orange PUMA get-up — taking dead aim at the flag, an aggressive approach on the difficult par-4 18th, the first extra hole, and knocking it to four feet. Not a tap-in, but he stroked the winning putt in with ease to beat Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points.
“Well, you’re playing against two guys that are going to make good swings 97 percent of the time, so I ended up having the number where I was able to take that risk,” said Rickie, explaining his decision to go for the pin, in his post-victory presser. “I hit a pitching wedge in regulation from 141, and it flew just past the hole about 44 or so, and I had 33 this time around. So it was basically a 10‑yard gap, which is about what I had between 147 and 51, and Joe (Skovron), my caddie, made a good call and said if there’s any bit of help and you’re comfortable hitting 51, it’s a perfect club. We went with it, and it turned out perfect.
“But like D.A. said, if I don’t have a little bit of help or don’t hit it perfectly, then I land short and I’m in the creek. But playing against those two guys, I know that they’re going to make birdie at some point, and I don’t want to sit there and try and make pars and stay in it. I had a good number, and I wanted to make birdie.”
In other words, he was playing to win.
“I definitely didn’t want to play safe,” said Rickie. “I had a good number, and I was aiming right of the hole with the wind coming out of the right, and if I hit a perfect shot, it comes down right on the stick, and I think we came down just left of it.”
Those are the risks you have to take to win golf tournaments.
“For Rickie to go out and play that hole the way he did, he deserved to win,” McIlroy, always a graceful loser, said in his post-loss presser.
Previously, Fowler was most known for sporting flashy, bright colors, including his all-orange get-up.
“Well, Rory is top ranked young player right now, I’m probably the one that sticks out most with color,” said Rickie, poking some fun at himself. “Now I’m a PGA Tour winner. So I’ve got some credibility.”
Fowler’s had his fair share of growing pains, like at the 2010 Waste Management Open when he chose to lay-up on the reachable-in-two par-5 15th at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium course. He was a 21-year-old rookie, and as we know, there’s a learning curve out here (like there is with just about any job).
Rickie no longer has to answer to questions like, “Why haven’t you won?” or “Why can’t you close the deal?” This may come as a surprise, but we, the media, didn’t enjoy asking them, but we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t. I’m also thrilled we don’t have to write and discuss that over-talked storyline, either (and it’s always all about us!).
Intern Kevin made a good point on Twitter, saying, “Two weeks in a row that arguably the best player without a win has shed the backhanded compliment. Get healthy, Steve Marino!”
Quail Hollow was a fitting place for the young star to win his first Tour victory. McIlroy did the same in 2010 and so did Anthony Kim in 2008.
“It’s a good feeling right now,” said Rickie, asked to discuss his emotions. “Definitely some relief, satisfaction, like you said. I’m definitely happy. It’s not a bad thing, winning. It’s kind of fun.
“It’ll take a bit for it to sink in. Obviously there’s a lot of people that have helped me out through the years, and going through and thanking them one by one is going to take a bit, but I’ve already thought of a few, and nice to have my mom and my girlfriend here, and my dad is still probably jumping around at home. He’s probably one of the most excited of all of us, and then I’ve got my coach Barry (McDonnell) up above watching us.”
Fowler’s eyes welled up with tears when he mentioned Barry’s name. His longtime coach passed away almost a year ago.
I’ll be updating this post, but I wanted to post it now to hear your reactions to Rickie’s impressive win.
Rickie opened strong, with a six-under 66, but it wasn’t the first time we’d seen him near the top of the leaderboard and then quietly fade away over the weekend. As Robert Garrigus told me Thursday, Fowler has the most pressure on him to win than anyone else. It must have worn on him.
“I definitely felt like I was very patient with it,” he said. “At times I felt like I pushed a little bit, where like this week I sat back and made sure I got a lot out of the round on Friday, whereas times before I may have gotten a little bit more frustrated and tried to push a little too hard and ended up shooting 76 when I pulled out a 72. Come today I’m four shots back.”
Fowler credits his fine play the last two weeks (he finished T10 at last week’s Zurich Classic) to improving his course management skills, along with staying patient and focused when he’s not swinging it 100%.
“I’m making the most out of the bad rounds, like I did on Friday and focusing on putting together a good week,” he said.
Early on Sunday it appeared like he might have another rough finish, with an early bogey on the second hole, but he rallied with three birdies on Nos. 5, 6 and 8. He three-putted No. 9, but birdies on Nos. 10, 12 and 15 kept him in the hunt. On No. 16 he caught a bit of a bad break, hitting it from the fairway bunker to the green-side bunker, where his ball plugged, and he eventually carded a bogey.
Fowler had a little bit of help from Points and McIlroy, who made two late bogeys, as well. Rory missed a five-footer for par on No. 17. When Points missed his birdie putt there, a fan yelled, “Yes!”, and then smiled slightly embarrassed that it had come out a little louder than planned.
Points needed a par to win outright on the 72nd hole, but his drive found the fairway bunker and his second shot also ended up in a bunker. His putt for par wasn’t even close and didn’t even reach the hole. Now McIlroy was in a good position to win. After nuking a 3-wood down the middle and leaving himself with about 15-feet for birdie,. his putt burned the edge, but he tapped-in for par.
Playoff time. A(nother) crazy finish! I’m not sure my blood pressure can handle much more!
I caught Points and Rory on the 9th hole and followed them for the remainder of the round, along with the playoff hole. It was an interesting back-and-forth duel they had going, but it was obvious the crowd was mostly behind Rory in that twosome. I think it was somewhat split between Rory and Rickie during the playoff, but it was a win-win situation (as long as it was one of them that won).
When Rickie wrapped up his presser, the media lined up to shake his hand and congratulate him. That’s not a regular occurrence, which tells you all you need to know. He’s genuinely a good kid, who everyone was happy to see get that monkey off his back.
Ben Crane and Aaron Baddeley stuck around to support Rickie, which also isn’t something you see every day. Most times players can’t wait to jet as soon as they finish. Crane and Baddeley watched from behind the 18th green and congratulated their friend after he rolled in the winning putt.
“Well, I’m bummed Bubba (Watson) wasn’t around,” said Rickie, jokingly. “No, it was great to have two of my good buddies out here, Baddes and Ben. I’m surprised Ben didn’t start dancing around or anything on the green. But it’s nice to have the support from fellow players and good friends out here and nice to see some familiar faces waiting there behind the green.”
Watson withdrew from Quail Hollow earlier in the week and then also pulled out of next week’s Players Championship, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. It’s too bad he wasn’t there to share the moment with Rickie, who was there to support Bubba at the Masters, but obviously he understands that Bubba is bonding with his three-month son, who he and his wife Angie adopted in March.
Congrats to Rickie and his caddie Joe Skovron, both two of the nicest guys out here.
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)