All Fowler needs is the victories

Rickie Fowler used to be a motocross racer.
Rickie Fowler used to be a motocross racer.
Posted: July 03, 2011

There was blood on the course at Aronimink on Saturday, with red numbers bleeding down the leader board of the AT&T National until the records of the grand old track lay in ruins.

Rickie Fowler, the coleader after three rounds, shot a 6-under-par 64 on Saturday. Had he done so on Friday, he would have tied the course record. As it was on this turkey shoot of an afternoon, his score was only tied for the fourth best of the day.

Fowler and Nick Watney are locked up for the lead at 9 under entering Sunday's final round. Watney tossed a mere 62 at Aronimink on Saturday - yes, the new course record - and needed only 27 strokes to maneuver the back nine. He nearly dropped a 30-foot putt on the last hole that would have made him 9 under for the back nine alone, which sounds impossible, but not on Saturday, when Aronimink was the Paris Hilton of golf courses - world-class looks, but a little on the easy side.

"I guess anything is possible," Watney said, "but I don't think you ever expect to shoot that low."

He shouldn't expect it on Sunday, anyway. The greens won't be softened by another watering, and the tournament directors probably will react to Saturday's carnage with some pin placements that will be downright nasty.

The third round might have been a gimme, with 40 of the 76 golfers breaking par, but the winner definitely will have to earn the $1,116,000 prize for first place. If it turns out to be Watney, the PGA Tour folks will be fine with that. He's a personable representative of the sport, with three wins in nine years as a professional. A nice win here, albeit against a low-wattage field, would be a perfectly pleasant, if forgettable, outcome.

But if Fowler comes through, wearing his standard bright-orange Sunday outfit in honor of Oklahoma State, then you might see PGA Tour officials doing handsprings down St. Davids Road.

The tour wouldn't mind if Fowler becomes the next face of American golf, and, in some ways, he already is. The 22-year-old Fowler, with a sheaf of long brown hair flipping from beneath a goofy wide-billed cap, is a gallery favorite. He commands a large following of young people, including many young women, and his crowd swelled Saturday as steadily as his score fell.

"It's great to have some fans, some supporters out there, and to see them grow and see kids with my hats on and stuff like that," Fowler said. "You've got to love the fans."

Well, they love him, for many different reasons, and all that is keeping Fowler from breaking completely through to superstardom is that little thing called winning. He finished second twice during his 2010 rookie season, but has managed no better than an eighth-place finish this season and placed among the top 10 in only two of 15 events.

"I've been in similar positions before," Fowler said after Saturday's round. "I've played in final groups and played in contention. I think the biggest thing is to . . . be patient, kind of sit back, relax, and just go have some fun."

Fowler has chased fun in a number of ways. He was a competitive motocross and BMX rider until injuries derailed that career when he was a teenager. Fowler came by his racing passion honestly. His father was also a motocross racer, the winner of the prestigious Baja 1,000, and his mother still competes in mountain-bike events.

But at the same time Fowler's father gave the 3-year-old boy his first bike, his maternal grandfather, Yutaka Tanaka, began taking Rickie to the driving range to hit golf balls together. Tanaka, a former detainee in a World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans, gave his grandson something that would last longer than racing motorbikes.

That is how Rickie Yutaka Fowler found the path leading to the PGA Tour, and it is a path that already led him through a successful turn in the Ryder Cup in 2010, when he scored four consecutive closing birdies to earn the United States a vital half-point.

So, here he is, ready for his breakthrough moment, all 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds of him. This next face of American golf is a set of sharp, dark features around a pair of moss-green eyes that miss nothing. His first golf teacher, Barry McDonnell, who tutored the young player at Murrieta Valley Golf Range in the arid valley east of Los Angeles, called him "Little Hawk."

He had the courage to jump motorcycles for sport and, as he noted recently, "when things go wrong on a bike, it's a lot worse than when they go wrong on a golf course."

That perspective makes it a little easier to goose a shot from the rough within inches of a tree trunk to get near the green and save par, as Fowler did on the 18th hole Saturday. That isn't quite as scary as finding oneself upside-down 80 feet in the air.

"I couldn't have hugged that tree much more," Fowler said. "I didn't miss it by a whole lot."

Sooner or later, the championship that keeps missing him by just a little will find Fowler, and golf will get a young hero in the United States to keep up with Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland. The last face of American golf has a bad knee now and a worse public-relations issue, and he might never recover from either.

Time for something new. A former motorbike racer with his hat turned backward for interviews certainly qualifies as something new. Sunday we will find out whether this is the week in which Rickie Fowler becomes much more than just a colorful hat.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at bford@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "Post Patterns," at www.philly.com/postpatterns

 

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|