After missing his third straight cut, it’s time to find out what’s going on with the former top-five player in the world.
Golf is quite possibly the most humbling game there is. In one instant, a golfer can go from feeling on top of the world to battling for even the slimmest chance of victory. All it takes is one misread putt, one shank of the club, or one bad round before an off-day becomes a losing streak.
At this point in Rickie Fowler’s career, the young player has experienced both sides of the golfing coin. In a game that Arnold Palmer once referred to as “deceptively simple and endlessly complicated,” Fowler has looked at times to be the next golfing phenom ready to rival the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
Fowler is one of a handful of golfers to gain prominence straight out of the collegiate ranks. In just the first PGA Tour start of his career, Fowler tied for seventh at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas. From 2010 to 2014, Fowler earned 31 top-10 finishes along with a win at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship.
While playing consistent and competitive golf, his dubious record of very few wins on tour (three in total) earned Fowler, along with Ian Poulter, the distinction of “most overrated player” in an anonymous Sports Illustrated poll. But in 2015, Fowler would have his crowning moment thus far.
On the final day of what many golf historians have called the most compelling finish in the Player’s 42 year history, Fowler shot a 67, shooting six under on his final six holes. For the third time that Sunday, Fowler found himself on the Island Green 17th. Only this time, he would need to match Kevin Kisner’s shot, which put him only 13 feet away from a possible victory. Fowler’s response was that of a champion.
With golf’s unofficial fifth major in hand and eventual wins that same season at the Scottish Open and Deutsche Bank Championship, Fowler had finally arrived… or so we thought.
Regression In 2016
In 2015, Fowler took a step forward in the natural progression of his career. After all, even the greatest golfers, such as Ben Hogan, who failed to win in his first seven seasons, and Jason Day, who won only once in his first eight seasons, don’t always get off to great starts.
But the healthy step forward that was 2015 would soon become an unnerving leap backward in 2016 for the up-shot golfer. In just 14 starts this season, Fowler has been cut four times, including his last three tournaments.
At this week’s U.S. Open, Fowler recorded a paltry 11-over before missing the cut. In an interview with Fox Sports, Fowler blamed his trend of poor driving that doomed him from the start. Indeed, the heavy hitter found just 50% of Oakmont’s famously narrow fairways. But here’s why the U.S. Open was not just a fluke.
Fowler’s Poor Starts
While it’s often not how you start but how you finish in golf, Fowler’s string of poor starts often seem to doom him before he can ever get going. At this year’s Masters, Fowler shot an 80. On a Thursday at the Players Championship, in which many golfers licked their chops at the easy course conditions, Fowler would shoot an uninspired 72 before getting cut the next day at one-under.
The Memorial was telling of a golfer battling with inconsistency he had never before faced. After walking off the 18th green with a dreaded 75, Fowler would go ont to shoot a three-under 69 before again missing the cut.
For a player with the seventh best total scoring average on tour this season, his first round scoring average is just 92nd.
Fowler’s Putting Woes
By most statistical categories, Fowler is putting up numbers you would expect from one of the brightest young golfers in the game. Fowler ranks in the top 30 in driving distance at just under 300 yards per drive. With an iron or fairway wood in his hand, Fowler finds the green 72% of the time—that’s good enough for third on tour in that category. When forced to scramble in an effort to save par, the “most overrated golfer” is virtually automatic in the rough from a distance of 20 yards or less.
Fowler’s poor season may be due in large part to his less-than-spectacular putting. At six feet from the pin, Fowler ranks 129th on tour. From 10-15 feet, he ranks 118th. For a player who may hit the green almost three-quarters of the time, his ball lands on average 38 feet from the pin.
With numbers like those, putts like this have come few and far between this season:
Fowler is undoubtedly one of the most talented golfers on tour. When the young orange-clad golfer has played the consistent golf that he is capable of, he has won big in pressure moments. In his current form, one would venture to guess that not even Fowler himself knows what to expect day in and day out.
After yet another missed cut this past Friday, Fowler’s career can best be described as a forked road. Will the one-time phenom return to his consistent top-10 play, or will 2016 truly be a lost year? For Fowler, the road to saving his season begins each dreaded Thursday.
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