The “overrated” narrative is becoming almost an obvious one. His win at the 2015 PLAYERS at the TPC Sawgrass comes the week after his peers nominate him to the throne of “most overrated golfers” on the PGA Tour. Incredible, yes. A motivated victory, yes.
But I’d like to take a different look at the Rickie Fowler story.
His game may be the most versatile game in golf.
Now before I get too far ahead of myself, there are a lot of versatile players in today’s game. Guys who can shape it, putt it well and control their golf balls with tremendous ease are numerous on the Tours both stateside and overseas.
It’s similar to the “most overrated” poll. With the amount of talent out there, how could a player truly be overrated? At the same time, with the number of great players, how could one player’s game be “more versatile” than anyone else’s?
The versatility statement is as simple as Rickie Fowler’s play over the past 13 months. He followed up the top-5 finishes in all four 2014 major championships with a win at the PGA Tour’s top event.
Now looking specifically at each major championship, it takes a different style of play to compete at each.
- At the Masters, play on the greens is paramount as their big, sloping and icy greens require precision with the short game. At the same time, Augusta National’s big, sloping fairways offer players numerous options to play. Players who can shape the ball with success will win an advantage. Those who separate themselves from the field, do it on the greens.
- The U.S. Open is the ultimate ‘grinders‘ event. Gnarly rough, rock-hard greens and long, undulating golf courses provide players with the most grueling test in golf. Great ball-striking, distance control and course management are essential in performing at a U.S. Open.
- An ocean isn’t typically too far away from an Open Championship venue, leading to relentless winds. There is rarely ever a wind-blocking tree to be seen at an Open. Flighting the ball low and creative utilization of the ground via rolling the ball are mainstays at Open Championships.
Three different styles of golf so far…
- Finally, the PGA Championship probably plays on as varied surfaces as we see. One year we’re at a tree-lined, thick-grassed venue like Oak Hill and another (like this year) we’re at a whispy, wind-blown venue like Whistling Straits.
With all four types of championships, Rickie Fowler has played well and played with success.
Now the PLAYERS Championship offers a different style of golf yet. As talked about throughout the week, the Pete Dye treasure features as many hazards as can be found in championship golf at the highest level. Course management on blind shots combined with risk taking at the appropriate times rewards players endlessly. It’s different than any of the four majors.
The common denominator over the past 13 months? Rickie Fowler.
His game translates to any style of golf.
Fowler’s win at the 2015 PLAYERS Championship was one of the most brilliant finishes in recent memory. He finished with some brawn (an eagle on 16), some precision (with a birdie on 17) and some guts (a gutsy tee shot and putt on 18) on the famed Stadium Course.
It’s almost like he was showing off.
And as for Chambers Bay itself, the word versatility will get used as much as any player’s 4-iron.
For one, Nos. 1 and 18 will switch pars during the tournament, the first time that has ever happened. One day you might start off on a 598-yard par-5, with a friendly fairway and a birdie opportunity right off the bat, and the next you might be trying to squeeze a tee shot in between a brutal fairway bunker and ankle-high rough on a 496-yard par-4 first.
And that is just the beginning. You want versatility? We have versatility!
Rickie Fowler has never competed at Chambers Bay. But the winner of the 2010 U.S. Amateur, Peter Uihlein, is one of Fowler’s college buddies from Oklahoma State. No one played more high-level golf that week than Uihlein (and his finals partner, David Chung).
Granted the course has undergone subtle changes, Peter and Rickie are bound to be in communication over the coming weeks.
But before getting again, too far ahead of myself, I’m going to stay focused on the present. The win at the 2015 PLAYERS was one of the most impressive and exciting we’ve ever seen at the TPC Sawgrass. Rickie Fowler’s finish was stuff of legends.
And his post-round finish via a smooch from his girlfriend was an element to his persona which endears him to his fans. The transparency (and versatility) in both life and golf are reasons for his worldwide popularity.
On-and-off the course, it’s hard to find a guy more versatile than Rickie Fowler.
2015 PLAYERS Recap: