Fowler enjoys solid start at Rocket Mortgage ClassicHas been fighting blisters as he tries to make first cut since the break
July 02, 2020
By Cameron Morfit , PGATOUR.COM
Rickie Fowler’s Round 1 highlights from Rocket Mortgage
DETROIT – Rickie Fowler was fourth in the world in 2016, but came into this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic at 31st, and 108th in the FedExCup.
He dabbled with cross-handed putting as he missed his fourth cut in six starts at the RBC Heritage in South Carolina two weeks ago. For his full swing he resorted to an overlapping grip as he practiced at home last week. Oh, and he also has a (relatively) new coach as he searches for some sort of rebound in the Motor City.
Add it all up and you might think Fowler, a five-time PGA TOUR winner, was pressing.
“Anytime you make seven birdies,” he said at Detroit Golf Club, where he signed for a 5-under 67 that included a double-bogey at the 18th hole, “it's a good day.”
Fowler was in a logjam at 5 under and two back of early first-round leaders Doc Redman and Scott Stallings.
For Fowler, a Rocket Mortgage and Quicken Loans ambassador, the solid opening round wasn’t so surprising. The cross-handed putting at RBC Heritage? “A reset,” he said – and something he’s done throughout his career.
As for the overlapping grip he used while practicing with his new coach John Tillery last week?
“I was working on some stuff,” Fowler said. “Colonial, Hilton Head, unfortunately I got some pretty bad blisters and so yeah, last week at home – I mean Friday at Hilton Head was not fun trying to fight through that. Felt like I did OK, but not good enough.
“So last week at home I wasn't able to play interlock,” he continued, “which is my normal grip, so just kind of had to hit balls overlap and work on some fundamentals and not really worry too much about how I was hitting it and stuff like that. So once I got here, Tuesday was the first day I was actually able to start hitting balls somewhat interlock. It was still bothering me, but they're healing, so today was the first day that it felt at least good enough to go ahead and go.”
Oh, and those recent missed cuts?
“It’s a fine line,” he said. True enough. He only missed by one at Harbour Town.
Change has been the name of the game for Fowler. He began working with Tillery, who also teaches Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown, last September. He also got married. He came down with a bacterial infection.
In the midst of all that, results have been uneven. Fowler finished T5 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T10 at The American Express, but missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open. He was T37 as the Waste Management Phoenix Open defending champ, and missed the cut at The Honda Classic.
He played OK in a T18 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, but after round one of THE PLAYERS Championship came the pandemic and a three-month hiatus.
The goal of his work with Tillery, Fowler has said, is to be less reliant on timing. “With the body working correctly,” he said at The American Express, “there’s really only one place for the arms and the club to go.”
His stats – 120th in Greens in Regulation, 110th in birdies – suggest a work in progress. He was better Thursday, hitting nine of 14 fairways and 15 greens in regulation. On 18, his ninth hole of the day, his ball found a nasty lie in front of the green. Fowler took a mighty hack, hoping the ball might come out softly, but it shot over the green.
If anything, he said, he chalks up his recent lull to poor putting.
“I was standing too close to the ball and the putter was going a little outside on the way back,” he said. “And then with that it was causing me to have to back out or my head moving backwards through impact. I was pulling a lot of putts, and once you do that, you start getting two‑way misses because you're trying to match it up.”
Fowler, who has dropped to 64th in Strokes Gained: Putting this season, is now standing slightly farther from the ball, and with the ball slightly farther back in his stance. “Just cleaned up some fundamentals to allow me to actually go ahead and stroke the ball and not try and manipulate it,” he said.
He took a tidy 27 putts Thursday. That didn’t exactly qualify as “off like a rocket,” but he’d achieved liftoff.