Back at Royal Liverpool, Rickie Fowler resumes his major quest

HOYLAKE, England — 9 years in the past, the resplendent orange Rickie Fowler wore in opposition to the backdrop of Hoylake’s cement-colored palate appeared prefer it glowed a bit brighter. On the 2014 Open Championship, Fowler was nonetheless in his mid 20s, sporting a flat-billed, white and orange Puma hat together with his web site stitched on, sporting a golf swing that was far flatter, and a putter head that was a lot smaller.

5 years into his skilled profession, on the time, it felt like Fowler was beginning to make actual progress towards what at one level felt inevitable, assured even: Successful. Lots.

He had simply notched a top-five end on the Masters that 12 months and added a second-place end within the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. For a participant who had just one PGA Tour win however numerous consideration, sponsorship offers and hype to his identify, these performances on the majors felt overdue. The early a part of 2014 hinted at Fowler being shut, however even in these tournaments previous to The Open, he had been eight and 6 pictures respectively behind the eventual winner.

It wasn’t till Hoylake that 12 months that it felt like Fowler had a shot. Going into Sunday almost 10 years in the past, Fowler was six pictures again from Rory McIlroy, who led the sphere. Fowler wanted birdies and no bogeys. He made 5 of the previous and not one of the latter and obtained as shut as three pictures again after birdieing the fifteenth gap. Fowler performed the course Sunday 4 pictures higher than McIlroy, however it wasn’t sufficient.

On the time, Fowler considered his runner-up as a harbinger.

“It seems like I must be right here,” Fowler stated after the ultimate spherical in 2014. “There’s loads extra to return.”

Later that 12 months, nevertheless, Fowler would lose to McIlroy once more by two strokes, this time on the PGA Championship. It was one other top-5 end — the primary American to complete top-5 in each main of a single 12 months — that wasn’t ok to beat the participant who was taking on the sport in the way in which many had anticipated Fowler would.

“I positively have some catching as much as do,” Fowler stated of McIlroy’s a number of main wins on the time. “However I get nearer.”

Early on, there was an expectation that Fowler’s profession would tackle a linear trajectory. After early struggles, 2014 was the beginning of a proof of idea that culminated in Fowler’s greatest win of his profession on the the 2015 Gamers’ Championship. That, nevertheless, was by no means purported to really feel just like the mountaintop. And but it was.

Fowler’s decline since hasn’t been gradual, both. However as he arrives on the website of that 2014 Open as soon as once more with no majors to his identify, this season has felt like a turning level from an up-and-down previous few years. Greater than that: His success on the PGA Tour (13 top-15 finishes, one win) has felt prefer it’s constructing as much as one thing. The game is way deeper than it was again in 2014, however Fowler, now 34, will attempt once more this week in hopes of turning a type of shut calls into a serious win.

On Tuesday at Royal Liverpool, with the rain washing out any sunshine left from the day prior, Fowler paced himself across the course the place he almost received his first main. As he took a number of conservative irons off the tees whereas a few of his enjoying companions took woods, the one orange in sight was the internal tint on his sun shades and the spikes on the underside of his footwear. He wore blue and grey and, below an umbrella, took notes in his yardage guide. He carried his water bottle and spent much less time on the greens than others.

The putter now’s larger — an Odyssey mallet that resembles a Star Wars spaceship — and the swing is steeper, a product of labor that Fowler has put in with Butch Harmon, however one which has additionally required loads of dedication and a capability to proceed to place course of above outcomes.

“Being that I have been probably the greatest gamers on the earth, I knew what I used to be able to, however it’s powerful if you’re struggling for that lengthy of a time frame,” Fowler stated.

The recipe is working. This 12 months, Fowler is again within the limelight as soon as once more — this time for his golf extra so than anything. Positive, he nonetheless wears his patented orange on Sundays. He is nonetheless represented by Puma and has a crop of sponsors stitched round his garments and equipment. However even when the hue hasn’t modified, every little thing feels a bit extra muted, refined and buoyed by a special perspective.

“I suppose in a method, I am not scared to fail,” Fowler stated on the U.S. Open. “I’ve handled failure these previous few years, I have been by all of it, and you reside to see one other day.”

Just some weeks in the past on the Rocket Mortgage Traditional, Fowler did not fail. The enhancements he is made coalesced into his first PGA Tour win since 2019. The victory, secured by a 12-foot putt on the 18th gap, elicited a response from Fowler that seemed to be much less about celebration and extra about aid, affirmation even, that every one the work he has put in main as much as this season had paid off.

“It was a pleasant second simply to sort of really feel like the burden on my shoulders was lastly off,” Fowler stated after the win. “It is simply been a protracted street … it is good to have this one out of the way in which. I knew what I used to be able to, however it’s powerful if you’re struggling for that lengthy of a time frame.”

On the subject of perseverance, golf is a merciless sport. A participant can have one of the best 4 rounds of his life, and there is a good likelihood another person within the area can nonetheless win by a stroke. Who else guilty however your self for not doing sufficient? And through main championships, the place each shot feels laced with stakes, that feeling is magnified. Simply ask McIlroy, who has had a number of shut calls within the final 12 months. After all, the distinction is that he is obtained 4 majors already. Fowler has none.

The 2014 Open at Royal Liverpool did not mark some particular fissure in Fowler’s profession. It did not collapse. As an alternative it grew to become a succession of up-and-down years with loads of different shut calls and a number of other rock bottoms. Now greater than ever, Fowler appears keenly conscious that the following downswing could possibly be the primary of a brand new, lengthy wrestle, however as he is been saying all 12 months, proper now he feels extra assured and comfy than he has in a very long time.

“I knew it wasn’t far off and simply sort of needed to maintain placing the time in, maintain grinding, maintain pushing,” Fowler stated after his win in Detroit. “Then I began to see some constructive outcomes and beginning to construct some confidence and momentum final fall. I might say this 12 months and the way I have been enjoying as of late might be one of the best I’ve ever felt about my sport and performed.”

Whereas his sport has made a leap, Fowler’s psychological method additionally appears to have shifted. One 12 months after being the primary alternate within the U.S. Open and never getting in, Fowler had a share of the lead by the primary three rounds of this 12 months’s event, even capturing a U.S. Open report 62 in his first spherical. However after going into Sunday with a share of the lead, Fowler’s ballstriking left him, and he watched as Wyndham Clark and McIlroy — overtook him.

This time, the outlook, after one other shut name, was completely different. Gone are the times when youth and potential produced a confidence that every one however assured future success. Now, it is hard-learned expertise and dedication to enchancment that seem like supporting Fowler’s main hopes.

“After the previous couple of years, being on this place is nice,” Fowler stated of one more top-5 end at a serious — the eighth of his profession. “As a lot because it sucks to not be within the place I wished to be after as we speak, we’re simply persevering with to construct and persevering with to maneuver ahead.”

It did not take lengthy after the U.S. Open shut name for Fowler to win, however that main remains to be the accomplishment that eludes him. But to listen to Fowler discuss it, the stress of profitable one now not weighs him down. The expectations that surrounded him almost 15 years in the past have remodeled into one thing like appreciation for extra than simply outcomes on the leaderboard. He is nonetheless round, he is nonetheless enjoying, and now, he is again to contending. The crowds and their “Rickie” chants are again and louder now, too.

For all the eye he acquired early on in his profession, Fowler appears to have understood his position within the sport effectively. Successful could also be his final purpose, however having the willingness to match the eye he will get with a requisite response by being open about his struggles and taking ample time to signal autographs and take photos with followers after each spherical is what makes him a compelling protagonist after years of arising simply brief.

This week presents one more shot for Fowler to safe his first main. The positioning is acquainted, and Fowler’s sport is in nearly as good a form now because it was in 2014, perhaps even higher. And but no matter end result transpires come Sunday, Fowler will certainly be at peace with one other shut name. As he is stated numerous occasions by now, he is skilled the highs and the bottom of lows, and if his efficiency this season has taught us something, it’s that it doesn’t matter what occurs in between that broad spectrum, Fowler will tee it up once more and maintain attempting.

“You by no means actually know with this sport,” Fowler stated. “You positively be taught to understand the nice occasions and if you’re enjoying effectively. You hope the struggles do not final, however typically they last more than you’d hope for. Even if you’re enjoying effectively, it is not going to final ceaselessly.”

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