Rickie Fowler’s first PGA Tour win may seem like a long time coming, but perhaps that’s because the 23-year-old has been maturing before our eyes since he exploded onto the golf scene three years ago in a profusion of orange and other neon hues.
Indeed, we may be tempted to say Fowler “finally” won his first U.S. event after he bested Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff at the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday. But the popular young man with the backwards flat-billed cap who’s knocked on the door a couple of times would like to remind us that it hasn’t been that long a wait.
“I’m still 23, so it’s fairly early still,” Fowler told reporters after calmly knocking in a four-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for the win. “It’s my third season on tour, and I’ve been close a number of times and it’s nice to finally open the door.”
For sure, Fowler was pleased to have the winless monkey off his back, and he took the opportunity to stick it, gently, to the naysayers.
“There's a lot of people that have doubted or said, ‘You'll never win,’” Fowler said. “It’s nice to kind of shut them up a little bit.”
For the golfer himself, however, it was always a matter of when, not if, he was going to hoist the hardware.
“I definitely knew I was good enough, and it was just getting everything to come together and stay patient,” he said. “I felt like I didn't exactly win the tournament on Friday, but I definitely gave myself the opportunity to be where I was today.”
Fowler acknowledged that his own pre-conceived notions weighed him down a bit as well, but the lessons he’s learned while coming up short to the best in the world helped him battle back from a potentially disastrous second round.
“I had high expectations of myself and that can make it tough,” he conceded, adding that he was pleased with the way he handled what could have been a run-away round on Friday.
“I learned from prior tournaments and sometimes being in contention that if you can save a number of shots in a round that’s going the wrong way, [you can] end up in a spot where I am right now,” Fowler said.
Had it not been for the tough start to his second round, Fowler may have reverted to previous habits and let the tourney get away from him, especially after three-putting the par-3 second hole in Sunday’s finale and adding another three-jack on the ninth.
Fowler’s second round looked promising enough, starting as it did with a birdie on the 10th hole. But things quickly took a turn for the worse when he double-bogeyed the par-4 11th, bogeyed the par-4 12th, and made the turn with back-to-back bogeys on the par-4 18th and first.
He was able to settle down, though, and after making three pars, carded three birdies on his closing five holes to get to the clubhouse with an even-par 72 -- the only round of the week in which he did not score in the 60s.
Fowler credited his ability to settle himself down during Friday’s round with his laser-like focus on Sunday that was evident all day, like when he saved a tough par on the sixth, two-putted for birdie on the 10th, and drained an 18-footer for another birdie on the 12th to grab a share of the lead.
If there were any doubts left, Fowler put them to rest with a perfect 51-degree wedge shot from 133 yards to the 18th green on the first, and only, extra frame on Sunday.
“I definitely didn't want to play safe,” Fowler said in response to a questioner who may have had the golfer’s much-scrutinized lay-up shot at the 2010 Phoenix Open in mind. “I had a good number, and I was aiming right of the hole with the wind coming out of the right, and if I hit a perfect shot, it comes down right on the stick, and I think we came down just left of it.
“But no,” Fowler said, “I hit a perfect shot at the right time, and I was going for it.”