Fowler seeks another breakthrough at Quail Hollow
Four-time winner in contention for first major at site of maiden PGA TOUR win
August 11, 2017
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Rickie Fowler's solid tee shot sets up birdie at PGA Championship
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Quail Hollow you’re seeing at this week’s PGA Championship looks like the same course that hosts a PGA TOUR event on an annual basis. The grass is still green, the bunkers are still white and the penal finishing holes are still lined by water.
There are some large differences, though, which explains why only one of nine past winners at Quail Hollow broke par Thursday. This is a bigger, meaner version of the George Cobb design, which is what you’d expect from a course hosting its first major championship.
The holes are longer, the Bermuda rough is penal and the greens are firmer.
“This is not the Quail Hollow we have gotten to know over the last 10 years,” said Rory McIlroy, one of those eight players who has hoisted a trophy on this property but failed to break par Thursday. He matched that 72 with another one on Friday; at 2 over entering the weekend, he'll need a big push to climb into contention.
McIlroy did have a front-row seat to watch the one Wells Fargo Championship winner who is off to a good start at the PGA Championship, Rickie Fowler.
Fowler opened with 69-70 to sit inside the top 10 at day’s end. McIlroy also was there when Fowler won his first TOUR title here five years ago. Fowler beat McIlroy and D.A. Points in a sudden-death playoff to earn his maiden PGA TOUR victory and silence those who’d grown impatient waiting for one of golf’s most popular players to enter the winner’s circle.
Now Fowler, who owns four PGA TOUR titles, is looking for another breakthrough in Charlotte: his first major championship. That Quail Hollow win in 2012 followed several close calls, including a playoff loss in his second TOUR start as a pro (at the 2009 Frys.com Open) and two 54-hole leads that he failed to convert.With the way I've been playing, ... I know I can win this week.
His first major win would follow missed opportunities, as well. Fowler, who finished in the top five in all four of 2014’s majors, has had two golden chances in 2017 to win his first Grand Slam event. He was one shot back at the start of the Masters’ final round but shot 76. Fowler couldn’t mount a charge at the U.S. Open after starting Sunday two back. His 72 left him six shots behind Brooks Koepka, and Fowler drew criticism from some by saying, “You have to measure success in different ways, not just by winning, just because that doesn't happen a whole lot.”
Fowler has another chance this week, and is confident that he could be carrying the Wanamaker Trophy come Sunday.
"With the way I've been playing, ... I know I can win this week. That's already set," Fowler said. "It's moreso in between the ears, making sure I make the right decisions and not get ahead of myself. If we do that, it will be all right."
Fowler has used a conservative gameplan to put himself on the leaderboard. Perhaps it's appropriate for a 28-year-old who, like this week’s venue, has undergone changes in recent years.
The Fowler who won here in 2012 had a shaggy brown hairdo that nearly touched his shoulders, a mustache and was adorned in orange from head to toe. It was a hairstyle and wardrobe that fit Fowler’s background in motocross.
Fowler's hair all fits neatly under his Puma cap now, and while he’s added a few small tattoos, his wardrobe consists of a more muted palette.Rickie Fowler celebrates his first PGA TOUR win, at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Fowler’s swing also has undergone a transformation over the past several years. The unique action he brought out on TOUR was developed back home in Murrieta, California, under the minimally invasive tutelage of instructor Barry McDonnell. The clubhead dramatically changed planes in the transition from backswing to downswing, a habit he picked up in his youth. McDonnell passed away in 2011, and Fowler started working with instructor Butch Harmon in December 2013. Harmon helped Fowler develop an action that alleviated back pain and made him better-suited for majors. Fowler finished in the top five of all four of golf’s Grand Slam events the following year.
While he doesn’t own a major, his victories have come at some of the TOUR’s biggest events. He won both THE PLAYERS Championship and a FedExCup Playoffs event, the Dell Technologies Championship, in 2015. This year, he won The Honda Classic at PGA National’s Champion Course, which annually ranks among the season’s toughest venues (his 12-under total was good for a four-shot win). He ranks sixth in the FedExCup.
Ballstriking is crucial at major championships, and this week is no different. Fowler said the PGA is “probably the hardest test we’ve had this year.”
That’s why Fowler has focused on hitting fairways instead of taking chances. He’s been over par on just three holes this week, though that includes a triple-bogey at the par-4 fifth hole in the first round. He made just two birdies and a single bogey Friday.
“You can't really get too aggressive out there,” Fowler said. “The biggest thing is first off getting the ball in the fairway. That way you can have some control going to the greens. If you try and maybe overpower it too much or get too aggressive, it will jump up and get you at some point.”