01/24/2016

How long into this column should I get before I mention high-tops, joggers and the Big Four?

Because those are the buzz words that are flying around following Rickie Fowler’s win at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship. Fowler fired -16 to beat Thomas Peters by one stroke, although it was two other rivals that defined the 27-year-old’s weekend. Rory McIlroy finished two shots shy of Fowler and Jordan Spieth claimed a T5 place at 11-under-par.

Let’s break it down according to the buzz.

The High-Tops and Joggers

Let me admit that I had no idea what “joggers” are.

Apparently they are pants that narrow near the ankles (Is that a good description?). I’m a poor millennial and a poorer fashionisto.

At any rate, Fowler debuted the puma high-tops earlier this year and paired them with joggers for his trip to the Middle East. The look immediately drew more attention to a young player who’s been criticized for it his entire career.

The flamboyant colors and flat-brim hats at least partially contributed to Fowler’s standing as one of the most overrated players in golf.

And there’s a level of hypocrisy to it all. Consider the other news that hit golf last week. The European Tour would allow shorts for practice and pro-am rounds. Every one celebrated the small victory against the sport’s stuffy past. Why? Because despite being an individual sport, golf does not allow for much individuality. Fowler is simply working within tight confines to express himself.

When the results weren’t there, his fashion was a distraction. Now that Fowler has won four times in the last year, the performance matches the hype. In other words, if we celebrate the shorts we must also celebrate Rickie. Both represent moves in the right direction.

The Big Four

Last fall, Fowler made the remark that he wanted to make “the Big Three” of McIlroy, Spieth and Jason Day a Big Four in 2016.

The reaction was hopeful from those who wished golf could break into the mainstream. It was critical from the perspective that Fowler needs a major to join such a group. And that was his point. Fowler knows it’s time.

In that context, perhaps we shouldn’t look too much into the Abu Dhabi win.

What does it mean for Fowler? He’s playing more consistently than he ever has in his career and is reaping the benefits. Forget the exhibition-like feel of the tournament, too. Look at that leaderboard: McIlroy, Spieth and Henrik Stenson, who tied with McIlroy for third, all challenged Fowler this weekend.

That’s as good a top-five as you can find, regardless of setting.

We’re still waiting for Fowler to break through at a major, but you can’t ignore the streak he’s on. I’ve seen some fans bemoan the “Big Four” narrative on twitter. They believe the media is force-feeding us young stars at the expense of guys like Stenson and two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson, both of whom are as accomplished as Fowler if not more so.

[bctt tweet=”That’s as good a top-five as you can find, regardless of setting.”]

That’s not fair to Rickie, though. Since enlisting Butch Harmon, he’s become a complete player. Sure it’s January, and what he does in April and beyond will define his season more than a win in the Middle East.

But there’s no denying Fowler. He wins.