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Fowler Shows Us his A Game in San Diego

February 1st, 2010 · 3 Comments

The San Diego Open (sorry, but as a native of San Diego, I just can’t get into that last second name change) had, in some ways the feel of a mini major, perhaps because the event is played at Torrey Pines, which hosted the Open in 2008. I could also be biased considering that Torrey was my home course as a youth.

The event probably felt a bit like a major as well to those seeking their first PGA title, including 21-year-old phenom Rickie Fowler. Paired with three time major winner and local favorite Phil Mickelson, Fowler showed a big case of nerves on the first hole when he lagged an 81 foot putt to within six inches of the cup while his 18 years old playing partner stumbled to a bogey. Mickelson also bogeyed two and three while Fowler made easy pars. So much for the intimidation factor of playing with the world’s #2.

Fowler continued to methodically dissect the South Course, taking few chances, a game plan that produced three birdies and eight pars through 11 holes. At that point. Fowler had picked up five shots on his distinguished playing partner and owner of 37 tour titles (including three San Diego Opens).

Fowler finally blinked at the 505 yard par 4 twelfth, a par 4.5 if ever there was one, making his first bogey after driving into a fairway bunker. No problem. He got it back on 13 by hitting the green in two and deftly lagging a super fast, downhill 66 foot putt to three feet (below the cup, of course!).

Pars on the next trio of super tough holes and a fairway splitting tee shot on 17 put Fowler in position to get aggressive on his second shot to a dangerous back pin. If this shot had come earlier in the round, he probably would have played safe to the left of the pin. But this was winning time, so Fowler went into attack mode, but pushed his shot 35 feet to the right into deep rough on the short side.

The subsequent double bogey ended his hopes of winning, but he did rebound for a birdie after stuffing a 95 yard wedge over the pond to 4 feet on 18 to finish two back of Ben Crane in a tie for fifth.

Fowler probably figured he needed a birdie to have any chance of winning on 17, so he gambled and lost. The irony of it all is that, if he had stuck to his smart golf game plan, a par would have landed him in a playoff and guaranteed no worse than his second runner-up finish.

Despite his hiccup on 17, Fowler showed a lot of game over the four days on the cliffs above La Jolla. Om Thursday at the shorter Torrey Pines North, he reached the 18 greens in only 36 shots on his way to an easy 67. He then put together three consecutive 70s on the always difficult South Course.

Best of all was the way he played on the final day. In this mini-major, he played with a certain cool all day long – no cursing or club throwing, just a clam and businesslike approach to the game. And, despite Gary McCord’s assertion that “He will try any shot at any time,” and that, “He is not afraid of anything,” Fowler, despite his youth, plotted his course around the way like a young Jack Nicklaus.

He hit lots of greens (16 in the final round – 4t for the week), played for the fat part of the green on the longer holes, and made his score on the par fives (he was four under on them on Sunday). In short, he seems to have a gift for knowing when to play safe, and when to attack. He was also reasonably straight off the tee, ranking 25t in a field of 78 despite his length (he was 15t in distance).

So, let’s sum of this young man’s play. Fowler is a superb ball striker. He is an excellent lag putter. He’s got the course management skills of a veteran. And he’s cool under Sunday pressure. Add those qualities up and they bring to mind a certain player who celebrated his 70th birthday not long ago.

Sure, the odds are still long the Fowler will live up to the hype because of the sheer magnitude of his early career press. But at least, after failing dismally in his first two starts this year, we once again have reason to believe that this kid might be something special – very special.

Tags: Challengers · PGA Tour

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 MikeZ // Feb 4, 2010 at 8:36 am

    The other day I wore a Puma warm-up jacket to work. It was a Christmas present from my wife, who got it for me to wear for my weekend “job” as my son’s soccer coach. A younger co-worker (16 years my junior) saw me in it, did a double-take, and said, “Dude, you’re wearing Puma!” I gave him a blank stare in return. “Dude, Puma’s cool!” he clarified.
    I had no idea. But it made me like my new warm-up a little bit less. At my age, I really don’t have any interest in being cool. In fact, I’m starting to take a little perverse pride in how un-cool I’m becoming. Funny how that happens.
    And I think that reflects why I’m having trouble warming up to Rickie Fowler, who wears Puma all over. Not because of Puma, per se, but because I have a long-held, deep-seated aversion to “cool kids.” You make a great case, Phil, that he has a game deserving of our close attention. And I’ll be excited to see him start winning, being the fan of precocious talent that I am. But I’m reserving my allotment of phenom affection, at least for the moment, for Rory McIlroy. Now there’s a golf geek I can get behind!
    But maybe it’s just because I used to have a very similar haircut.

  • 2 Phil // Feb 4, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Your comment reminds me of some of the notes I’ve written on who we root for and why. I likewise am rooting for McIlroy, though I think it is more because of his immense talent, his record so far, and his gorgeous swing. I do not know him as a person well enough yet to root for him because I think he’s a great guy – like a Nicklaus.

    Fowler is also new to me, but he grew up in the next community from where I live, so there is the home boy aspect. As a golfer, I liked what I saw on the course Sunday, and I am not worried that he will act poorly on the course like TW. I guess I am saying that being a fan is a shallow experience at first, and it takes time to learn whether we are rooting for someone we like as a person. And – should that matter? Maybe not to some, but to me it does.

  • 3 Golf Balls Galore // Feb 12, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Mike i know what your saying, but dont you at the same time want your son to look at his dad like ya my dad a cool dad he wheres puma but at the same time i know now that you see ricky fowler doping it you dont want to look like your trying to be young and act young like him

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