He’s probably sick and tired of people telling him how good he is but the nearly man in golf knows that to date he hasn’t fully delivered in the professional game, writes John McHenry.
Throughout his professional career, Rickie Fowler’s golfing ability has been either over overrated or underrated but while no one doubts that he is better that the four PGA and six worldwide wins he currently has to his name, he still has a long way to go before he can be rightly mentioned in the same category as his good friends Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, knowing that time and time again he has underperformed during those same major championships they have won.
Overshadowed by better players? Perhaps, but you must remember that, historically, Fowler has had a curious tendency to play his best tournament golf in the strongest fielded events — where other great golfers are also turning in great performances.
That said, it is very reassuring to know that Fowler is not the type of person to settle for mediocracy and this year he has been steadily producing the type of playing statistics that suggests he may now be closer to breaking his major championship duck — as was evidence by yesterday’s round which was all about building a solid foot-holding in the tournament.
As an early starter on the course, Fowler had the advantage of softer, smoother putting surfaces. He also had the opportunity to post an early number so as to load as much pressure on his fellow competitors but mostly it was about “controlling the controllables” — himself and his own emotions.
Erin Hills is a course that would suit Fowler’s eye in that it is long and largely open, dominated primarily by blind shots, elevational changes, and winds which fluctuate just enough to make a big difference. As a renowned shot maker, the course plays to Fowler’s strengths in that he has no issue using the wind to his advantage. Perhaps the best break he has this week is that where typically the golfer who misses a green at the US Open has to automatically reach for a wedge in order to chop it out of deep rough, the green surrounds are closely trimmed at Erin Hills in order to promote run-offs away from the green — which in turn can lead to uncomfortable multiple-shot decisions and of course indecision.
For example, the players might elect to putt, hit bump-and-run shots, or use their lob wedge to hit high soft-landing pitches — all a tremendous advantage to one of the very best scramblers in world golf.
For someone who openly talks about the buzz of being on the leaderboard and knowing exactly where you stand relative to the rest of the field, Fowler’s round yesterday was a massive statement.
For a tournament that is renowned for producing level-par winning totals, Fowler emphatically demonstrated that this year’s event would be a significant break from years gone by and by laying down the gauntlet so early on to his rivals, he has already taken players out of their comfort zone by eliminating any possibility of them cagily “feeling” their way into the tournament.
As one of the hot players with a chance to make some noise, Fowler has already forced players’ hands and they will now have to react accordingly.
For his part, Fowler has earned the opportunity to be in this position but he, more than most, will also understand that nothing is ever won on the Thursday of a major championship and that until the bitter end, there will always be dangerous pursuers within easy striking range.
That said, one feels that his mentality, his short game, and particularly his putting will now be the key components in his pursuit of glory over the coming days. As a putter, Fowler has the tendency to be overly aggressive on medium-length putts. If he can hone his control, he may well be able to take the time to seek out the leaderboards on his way around the course on Sunday afternoon, knowing that he is in full control of his own destiny.
No doubt others will want their own say on that matter but fortune very often favours the brave and Fowler is one of the bravest. If he does manage it, Fowler would be a more than worthy winner.
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