Rickie Fowler still easy to root for amid plummet from the top of golf world

Once the poster child for “best player yet to win a major”, Rickie Fowler is struggling and everyone in golf knows it. His own acceptance of that is just one reason he remains an easy man to root for.

Rickie Fowler is an easy man to root for. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images/AFP
Rickie Fowler is an easy man to root for. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images/AFP

Everyone in golf knows Rickie Fowler is struggling.

On Monday, speaking to reporters in advance of this week’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills, Fowler was asked if he’s sought the help of a sports psychologist to help his mental game.

“I don’t know if I should throw names out there or not,’’ Fowler said after a pause.

The reporter followed up by asking, “Are there more than one?’’

“No,’’ Fowler said with a smile. “I mean, I’m not that messed up.’’

This is why you root for Rickie Fowler. He’s accountable. He doesn’t run and hide from the difficult questions even when he knows their theme is going to be uncomfortable.

Fowler has been lost in the woods for some two years now. Not literally in the woods. Figuratively.

When you looked at the Masters field last month and didn’t see Fowler’s name on the list as well as the Players Championship the month before, it felt jarring if you’re a Fowler fan.

Rickie Fowler has never been one to hide. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Rickie Fowler has never been one to hide. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Fowler is only 33 and has been a fixture in major championship fields, getting so close to winning more than one that he became the poster child as that “best player yet to win a major’’ title.

Remember when he finished in the top five of all four majors in 2014? It figured to be only a matter of time before he burst through that door. Felt almost inevitable.

That seems like a few lifetimes ago. Fowler, whose world ranking has plummeted to No. 146, would love to still be considered the face of that title, because it would at least mean he’s contending.

Fowler is in this week’s PGA Championship field by virtue of his tie for eighth in last year’s PGA at Kiawah Island. Without that finish, he wouldn’t be in the field this week.

And, without a win at Southern Hills this week, Fowler will find himself having to go through gruelling sectional qualifying to get into the U.S. Open and British Open.

“Going through it, it’s never fun,’’ Fowler said. “I’ve actually enjoyed it as much as it sucked. Not that I ever fell out of love with the game or anything like that, but I’ve embraced the grind … even though we have been in tough spots.

“It’s more just the confidence building right now. I feel like over the last couple years, it’s been really tough to build momentum, and momentum is really what builds confidence and you can kind of start riding that wave. There’s been no swell. I haven’t been able to ride anything.’’

Rickie Fowler was once a fixture near the top of four majors. Picture: Patrick Smith/Getty Images/AFP
Rickie Fowler was once a fixture near the top of four majors. Picture: Patrick Smith/Getty Images/AFP

Fowler had a small spike in results with the tie for eighth at the PGA last year and then a tie for third at the CJ Cup, but never continued to ride the wave. His last result was a tie for 21st at the Wells Fargo a couple weeks ago.

“The finish that I had at Wells Fargo a couple weeks ago wasn’t great, but I finally started to see a few things that were starting to go the right direction where I was digging myself deeper holes in the past [which] you can’t do out here,’’ he said. “You can’t move backwards.’’

Fowler came out of his two years playing at Oklahoma State on fire. He was successful on the golf course, a fixture on Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, a member of the PGA Tour’s cool crowd, and he, too, became a marketing icon.

“He was a game-change for golf I think from a culture perspective,’’ fellow Oklahoma State alum Talor Gooch told The Post on Monday. “I think he’s had as much impact on the game as anyone in the last 20 years. When Tiger [Woods] came out, how many kids did you see with [Nike] swooshes on their hats and red shirts? You can make the argument that when Rickie came out just as many kids were wearing orange shirts and flat-billed caps.’’

Fowler was an example for Gooch to follow, except that Gooch didn’t find the early success out of college that Fowler did, toiling on the lesser circuits, like the MacKenzie Tour in Canada, before finally breaking through with his first win at last year’s RSM Classic.

“You can’t see what he’s done and not think, ‘This is what I want to do,’” Gooch said.

Gooch said he hasn’t spoken to Fowler about his struggles, saying, “Like any other sport, you don’t want to talk to a guy when he’s struggling, like, ‘Why are you playing bad?’

“We all know golf gets everyone at some point in time. It’s only a matter of time before he gets playing good and become one of the best players in the world again. I have no doubt about that.’’

Neither does Fowler.

“I know it’s there,’’ Fowler said.

When he finds it again?

“It’s just going to make his story that much better in the end,’’ Gooch said.

– New York Post