'Grandpa' Fowler continues youth movement
February 26, 2017
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Rickie Fowler news conference after winning The Honda ClassicFollowing his win at The Honda Classic 2017, Rickie Fowler talks about his win.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The group ahead had yet to reach the 17th green when Rickie Fowler arrived at the tee, fresh off a birdie that gave him a comfortable lead as he stared at the large lake his 172-yard tee shot would soon have to traverse.
Fowler chatted with fellow competitor Tyrrell Hatton and caddie Joe Skovron to pass the time. The enthusiastic crowd, energized after a full day spent under the South Florida sun, chanted, “Let’s go Rickie” and “Hey Rickie, you’re so fine,” a play off of Toni Basil’s brain ingraining hit single.
The loud chants were just the latest example of Fowler’s immense popularity, which translates to millions of Twitter followers but also creates criticism when the victories don’t come quickly enough.
Fowler may have hit his tee shot into the water at 17, his 7-iron riding the breeze into the water right of the green, but the miscue wasn’t enough to undue the lead he’d acquired with birdies on three of his previous five holes, including a 5-iron that stopped 3 feet from the hole at No. 16.
Fowler went on to win by four shots, collecting his first PGA TOUR victory since September 2015 and continuing a trend of popular young players who have trotted into the winner’s circle.
Fowler is 28 years old, matching the average age of PGA TOUR winners in the 2016-17 season. Eleven of 15 events have been won by players in their 20s. The average age has skewed even younger since the calendar changed to 2017. All but one of the eight tournaments in 2017 has been won by a player in his 20s, and Fowler actually raises the average winner’s age to 25.5.
“It’s great. We’ve talked about it for a few years now, and the game is in a great spot, a lot of young players, a lot of great players playing well, a lot of young players winning,” Fowler said. “It’s fun seeing it. It’s motivating seeing my friends win.”
How young is the current crop of PGA TOUR champions? Justin Thomas, who drove to PGA National to witness Fowler’s win, says they rib Fowler by calling him “the grandpa of our little group.”
“Grandpa” had to watch from his metaphorical rocking chair as the kids claimed trophies, though. Fowler’s last worldwide win came at the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Championship in January 2016. After that win, he was included in the quartet known as the “Big Four,” a group that included Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy.
Regardless your opinion of such artificial associations, last year’s fruitful exploits from the “Big Four” are useful to illustrate the success of the game’s young stars in the past 11 months. Fowler was the only member of that foursome without a victory since last January. The other three have each won three times since, while players like Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama and Dustin Johnson had all reached new heights in their careers.
“I still need to put myself in position, be consistent and win some more golf tournaments,” Fowler said. “I just want to play the best that I can and keep pushing myself and ultimately just keep trying to put myself in position to win and start collecting more of these.”
Most players wouldn’t mind an 11-month victory drought, but Fowler has faced big expectations since turning pro in 2009. Thomas knows what it’s like when the wins don’t come as quickly as the fans and media think they should. He was just 22 when he won the first of his four TOUR titles, but that wasn’t early enough for some.
Rickie Fowler wins The Honda Classic
“Everyone is always like, ‘When are you going to win? When are you going to win?’” Thomas said Sunday. “It’s like, ‘Look, I’m trying. It’s not from a lack of effort.’ I think he needed it, maybe to get the people off his back a little bit.”
Fowler won in an unprecedented way, too, converting his first 54-hole lead into a victory. He had faltered the first four times he led after three rounds on the PGA TOUR, shooting a 73 and three 74s. There are few things that can hurt a golfer’s competitive credibility more than an inability to win after holding the third-round lead.
Fowler admitted this week that he needed to start converting more of his opportunities into victories. Holding a four-shot lead at day’s end, even if it shrunk at certain times, was satisfying for Fowler.
“It’s special to be able to pull it off,” said Fowler, who lives in nearby Jupiter. “It wasn’t the prettiest of ways to do it, but this isn’t an easy golf course and this wasn’t an easy day to go play golf on. I just had to fight through it.”
PGA National had played easier than usual this week because of soft conditions and a lack of wind, but Sunday saw a return to traditional Honda Classic conditions. Sunday’s 71.8 scoring average was the highest of the week by more than a shot.
Fowler had built a four-shot lead with three days of consistent driving, but his longest club, which he’d had shortened by an inch before the tournament, wasn’t working as well Sunday. He hit just two fairways on the front nine. His tee shot into the water at No. 6 resulted in a double bogey, and a tee shot into the trees led to bogey at No. 9. Fowler’s lead briefly shrunk to a single stroke as he started the back nine.
Even in the midst of his struggles to start the round, Skovron was impressed with his boss’ demeanor.
“He never really wavered,” Skovron said. “When he hit it in the water at 6, all he did was look at me and say, ‘Let’s get our 5 and get out.’ He didn’t get worked up at all this week.”
Fowler’s ball-striking improved on the back nine, and he holed some timely putts. He ranked second in strokes gained: putting this week and matched a career-high by making five putts outside of 20 feet. Three of them came on Sunday (Nos. 8, 12 and 13), including a 38-footer at the 12th hole. Then he hit that 5-iron to 3 feet at 16.
Fowler moved to No. 10 in the FedExCup after the win and will return to the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking. This is the earliest in a season that he’s won a PGA TOUR title.
“I think it’s big,” Skovron said. “One, it’s a home event. Two, it’s a tough golf course. Three, he played with a lead and got it done. Four, he ended up winning by four shots.”
And it continued a popular trend on the PGA TOUR.