PGA

Rickie Fowler Looks to Take Major Step Forward

Rickie Fowler will attempt to get the major monkey off his back in 2016. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

Rickie Fowler’s 2016 drive to make golf’s Big Three the Big Four begins in Maui – let’s see how he does with Kapalua!

Golf’s new Big Three–Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day–have won a combined seven majors and 24 PGA Tour events, all within the last six years. Day, at the ripe old age of 28, is the elder statesmen of the group, and they occupy the top three spots in the world rankings. For most players, finding a way to break through and transform the Big Three into a Big Four is an unrealistic goal.

Then again, Rickie Fowler isn’t most players.

“I feel like to be in the same conversation I need to get a major and get that on the resume to at least have some sort of credentials to be there,” Fowler said on Tuesday at Kapalua. “I’m just looking forward to working on being the best that I can be. The ultimate goal is to be the best player in the world.”

That’s not so farfetched. Remember, Fowler enjoyed a career year in 2015. He wasn’t competitive at the majors like so many of his fellow 20-somethings, but he did win three events: the Players Championship, the Scottish Open and the Deutsche Bank Championship. That’s nothing to sneeze at; there aren’t any John Deere Classics on that list, and his TPC Sawgrass performance gave us one of the most electrifying tournament finishes of the year.

And yet, Fowler’s 2015 was still a disappointment, however mild. Recall that in 2014, Fowler became just the third player to finish in the top five of all four majors in one year, joining Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods (Jordan Spieth pulled it off last year, becoming the fourth). Furthermore, he seemed to get stronger with each one; Fowler wasn’t really in the running by Sunday afternoon at the Masters or U.S. Open, but he nearly came away with the trophy at both the British and the PGA. Given his newfound experience and confidence, Fowler was projected to once again be a force in the majors in 2015.

It didn’t happen. Fowler got off to a slow start and didn’t notch a stroke play top 10 until his Players win in May. From there, things improved–he finished 2015 with eight top 10s–but Fowler’s major performance never really came around. He did tie for 12th at the Masters but was a non-factor in the final three. To make matters worse, Spieth and Day, formerly Fowler’s peers, surpassed him in greatness by taking three of the year’s majors, leaving everyone’s favorite Oklahoma State product in the dust.

All is not lost for Fowler, though. Remember, as good as he was in the majors in 2014, it was still a winless season. Last year, he got a whole lot more familiar with hoisting trophies, more than doubling his career total. If Fowler can draw from his diverse collection of experiences over the last two years, then he just might be uniquely positioned to do some serious damage in 2016.

Fowler feels the same way. “I think a combination of the two years, going with how I was able to hang around and get some top finishes in the majors in ’14 and the last year to go out and get the wins,” he said. “You put those two together, and we win a major this year.”

We’ll see. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, after all, and Fowler will take that first step at this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions. We’re still a good four months away from the Masters.

Still, Fowler now has an enviable combination of major experience and winning prowess, and he has yet to develop the scar tissue of a Sergio Garcia or a Dustin Johnson. Add it all up, and it seems he could very well be embarking on a monster season.