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Rory and Rickie Promise to Make 2010 a Season Worth Watching

January 13th, 2010 · 2 Comments

When considering the potential for greatness of highly touted prospects such as Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, it is fashionable to speculate on if and when they might become the next Phil Mickelson. That’s nonsense. After all, who wants to wait a dozen years to see them win their first major?

Now I suppose it would be nice if McIlroy and Fowler are able to carve out multiple major winning careers. But let’s not skip past that oh so delicious question that should accompany any young phenom: Are they a legitimate candidate for Best Ever? Why not ask it while they have yet to fail the test? Unlike future Mickelson’s and Singh’s, who can take years to develop as major players, a potential Best Ever will show his stripes soon enough.

Jack Nicklaus won his first major at age 22, and Tiger Woods won his at 21. And the much overlooked Gary Player won his first of nine at age 23. The point: if a player is going to threaten Nicklaus’ Gold Standard of 18 majors (not to mention all of those seconds and thirds), then he’s got to begin stockpiling wins and close losses in his very early twenties.

Our two big hopefuls for Best Ever are at the break out age – McIlroy will turn 21 in May, and Fowler celebrated his 21st birthday a month ago. Yes, they are long shots, as is any aspirant to Nicklaus’ throne, but at least they have a shot. And their play in 2010 will show us if they are special once in a generation players, or if the hype has exceeded their talent for playing major championship winning golf.

Let’s first consider McIlroy. He’s about five months younger than Fowler, but is the superior candidate based on his record. He made an impressive debut in three of the four majors last season (he finished 42t at the 2007 British Open) and he posted a remarkable string of performances: 20t at the Masters; 10t at the U.S. Open; 47t at the Open; and a 3t at the PGA. That’s two top 10s in his first campaign in the majors as a 20 year old!

McIlroy won a European Tour event in early 2009 as a 19 year old, finished second on the Order of Merit, and at the end of the season he posted an impressive string of finishes: 3t, 7t, 3t, 2t, 30t, 5t, 4, 2, 3, WD, a spree that catapulted him into the top 10 in the World Golf Rankings.

McIlroy hits the ball a mile and has a swing to die for, but two big questions must be answered in the affirmative: 1) is he a closer? And, 2) is he, or can he very soon become, a great putter? Those are two big ifs, but if he can close and putt like a Nicklaus or Woods, he could become golf’s next big thing.

Fowler comes to the pro game at the same age as Woods did, and after only two years of college, also like Woods. Fowler had only three starts in which to play his way onto the PGA Tour, and he came close with earnings of $571,090, about $90 grand short of securing his card. His 7t and 2t in the Fall Series and his 15t at Q School (which earned him his card) did, however, convince the experts that he is an upper echelon player in the making.

To date Fowler has played in only two majors, the last two U.S. Opens, posting finishes of 60t and MC. As a result, it may take him a season to get acclimated to competing on the four biggest stages. Still, with his game, anything seems possible.

Fowler appears to be a fearless competitor, a trait he developed while riding dirt bikes as a youngster. He likes to keep his swing simple, playing mostly by feel, and he can correct his swing on the course, a talent that Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus felt was a big key to their success. And he appears to want to be at the top, a place that far too many of today’s players shy away from, possibly in deference to Woods. “I want guys looking at the leaderboard and saying, “Oh, man, Fowler’s up their again.’ ”

Nicklaus and Woods were on a beeline to superstardom as they wasted precious little time gaining experience – both won the U.S. Amateur in their final season as amateurs, then won a major in their rookie years as pros. And then they kept right on winning.

If McIlroy and/or Fowler have the same stuff of greatness, we will see it soon enough, which is what makes their 2010 seasons so compelling. And if not, they can be lumped into the pile of potential Mickelson’s, Palmer’s, Els’s, and Watson’s – all superstars, but all a rung or two below the Best Ever.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 MikeZ // Jan 13, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Rory, McIlroy, for sure — absolutely! I’ll be rooting hard for him this year. I’d love to see him make a big impact in 2010, and think he’s poised to do it.

    Rickie Fowler, not so much. Not sure why. Maybe it’s the hat and hair, maybe it’s because he kind of snuck up on me, but I’m not excited about him yet. He clearly has the chops, and the way he finished ’09/started his pro career certainly bodes well. But I’ll need to see a little more before I get excited about him.

    Fair? Maybe not. But like I said, it’s a gut feeling thing at this point. So for now — GO, RORY!!

  • 2 Cambo // Jan 16, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Rory yes. Rickie no.
    Rory’s game is far superior to Rickies in every way. Rory will make some serious cash on tour this year.
    As for Rickie, it may take a while longer. He got the talent, but i just dont see him making a big impact this year.

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