ORLANDO, FLORIDA (AP) – Rickie Fowler hasn’t devised a strategy. He’ll go by ear, as the cliché goes: practice, play golf, keep an eye on his phone, and maybe even watch some golf. It won’t be easy, though.
When questioned about his plans for next week — Players Championship week – Fowler said, “It’ll suck.”
Fowler has spent Players Championship week at TPC Sawgrass with a head full of glory for more than a decade. In 2010, a year after turning pro, he made his maiden appearance at the PGA Tour’s most prestigious event. He’s witnessed the “fifth major” shift from May to March, has competed for titles and missed the cut, and was present when the world came to a halt two years ago when the epidemic caused organizers to cancel the tournament after 18 strange holes.
In 2012, Fowler finished second to Matt Kuchar on the Stadium Course, and in 2015, he won after a long playoff with a perfect Sunday on the island-green 17th hole.
Apart from flat-brimmed hats and a charming youthful charm, Fowler’s career has been defined by his 2015 victory. It’s not just about the quality of the trophy; it’s also about the style points he gained by beating Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner in what was possibly the most exciting playoff in the history of the tournament.
For the first time since joining the Tour in 2010, Fowler will be watching The Players from the comfort of his own home.
“This is an event you won’t want to miss.” Given that I’ve won it previously, it’s certainly a special one,” said Fowler, who still has a chance to make the field at TPC Sawgrass as the seventh alternate, but it’s doubtful. “If you play better, things will fall into place.”
For a long time, getting better at playing has been a difficulty.
The difficulties that Fowler has faced have been well chronicled. He has dropped to No. 122 in the global rankings, three years after his previous Tour triumph (the 2019 WM Phoenix Open). The inquiries have become so common that the answers appear to be trademarked, but this felt different. The Players is the name of the group.
“It’s a drag to play bad golf; it’s a drag. In this game, everyone has highs and lows,” he explained. “Just try to keep moving forward and ride it out.”
When he tied for third in the CJ Cup in Las Vegas last October, the black clouds parted slightly. It was enough to give Fowler and swing coach John Tillery reason to be optimistic, but after three consecutive missed cuts to begin the season, that momentum appears to have faded.
Fowler took nearly three months off to give birth to his and Allison Stokke’s first child, a daughter named Maya, on Thanksgiving Day.
The extended break was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the family, according to Fowler. He also admitted that the break rendered whatever impetus gained from the fall a distant memory.
“There was a lot of useful information there.” I didn’t play well after that, but I took a lot of time off, which was all planned, and I wouldn’t alter that for anything,” Fowler said. “But, in a way, that made it difficult to take that good play and run with it.” It was as if someone said, “OK, that’s it.” It’s now attempting to resume where we left off.”
When it comes to the golf swing, Fowler claims he and Tillery are finally “speaking the same language.” As the 33-year-old continues his two-year recovery, an extended workout at Bay Hill on Tuesday (five baskets loaded with range balls) has been the norm.
There were plenty of signs of growth at Bay Hill, where he was playing for his last realistic opportunity to make The Players’ field. On Sunday, a towering tee shot at the par-3 17th soared past the flag to 23 feet, followed by a wedge to 4 12 feet at the par-4 18th. There were also some bad holes, such as the eighth, where a missed fairway resulted in a double bogey-6, and the ninth, which resulted in a triple bogey-7.
Fowler has had a lot of opportunities to miss out over the last few years. Last year, he didn’t compete in the Masters or the US Open, and he hasn’t qualified for the Tour Championship since 2019. However, not being at The Players will have a different impact.
He was at Oklahoma State the previous time this happened, dreaming of a professional career. Unless there’s a mass exodus, he’ll spend the next week daydreaming about a tournament that means so much to him.
When asked if he planned to watch The Players, Fowler smiled and said, “I’m not going to schedule around to watch it.” “I’d be out playing and training, and if I’m home later that afternoon, there’d be time for me to watch and keep up.”
It’s more likely that he’ll spend the week trying to figure out what’s been bothering him for so long. He knows it won’t be easy this week, but he also knows there’s only one path back to TPC Sawgrass and the top of the golf world.
“The game’s popularity is only increasing. “It’s not going away,” he stated emphatically.
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