As darkness descended upon Valhalla’s rain-soaked fairways on that late-afternoon Sunday in August, Rickie Fowler was in the thick of the hunt once again at the 2014 PGA Championship.
Playing alongside Phil Mickelson and battling Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy all round; Fowler was poised to finally break through for his first major championship. The former #1 ranked amateur in the world was amid his best season on tour. And he was shining where it counted most – the majors.
Fowler’s 2014 major championship resume is impressive to say the least: T5 at the Masters; T2 at the US Open; T2 at The Open Championship; and T3 at the PGA Championship. Although he held the lead for portions of the back 9 at the PGA, ultimately Fowler came up two shots off the total needed to tie the red-hot McIlroy and force a playoff.
As the 2015 season approached, expectations were off the chart for Rickie Fowler. Everyone from the media to fans and sponsors assumed this was just the beginning of not only wins, but major wins for the fresh-faced California kid. But expectations are no guarantee.
Fowler played well the following season, securing a coveted THE PLAYERS Championship, as well as a FedEx Cup playoff win at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
However, the wins became scarcer, and Fowler’s once-enviable putting stroke began to waver. Rickie’s unorthodox swing always had him laid-off from the top, but bad habits crept in, and that move was exaggerated which caused Fowler’s ball striking to become inconsistent. Where one bad habit creeps in, others often follow, and with that comes the mental hurdles.
Suddenly, every round becomes a grind and you’re not sure where the ball is going off the clubface.
For many, when this happens, they drift off into oblivion, only to be heard from again in highlight reels and “flashback Fridays.” But for others with the grit and determination to succeed and climb that mountain again, the work begins, and a new journey starts.
Rickie Fowler regains form ahead of the 2023 PGA Championship.
For those who follow golf and the PGA Tour closely, this is exactly what we have seen from Rickie Fowler. He is having arguably his most consistent season (albeit with no wins) since 2015. His game is improving and the stats back that up.
Fowler is 11th in SG: Total at 1.488, while his par 3 scoring average is 2.94, good for 3rd on Tour and a tell-tale sign that both the ball striking and short game are in working order. And further proof that the work Rickie has put in is paying off – he has climbed 135 spots in the OWGR since September 2022, finally cracking the top 50 with his T14 finish at the Wells Fargo.
Not only that, but Rickie’s legion of fans will be the first to tell you that the 34-year-old is now routinely popping up on leaderboards week in and week out.
Golf gurus will tell you the reason for this improvement is simple – Rickie has gone back to working with legendary golf instructor Butch Harmon and his brother, Craig. Perhaps it’s that familiar voice in his ear that is not only providing technical adjustments, but a reassuring and positive dialogue that makes Rickie believe he can once again become the player we think he can be.
So, what does this mean for Rickie’s chances at the 2023 PGA Championship at Oak Hill? It is never a bad thing to be flying under the radar entering a major championship.
Even with his marked improvements and stature in the game, Fowler is indeed under the radar compared to current superstars like Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, and Rory McIlroy.
Almost ten years on from that unforgettable scene at Valhalla, could it be Rickie Fowler chasing Rory up the last with a final putt for history as darkness falls over Oak Hill?