Rickie Fowler, golf's most popular ad man, finding his game as Masters approaches

Andy Lyons

The face of one of golf's most popular young players is everywhere, but with still just one career win, Rickie Fowler has made a move to swing guru Butch Harmon. After some early season struggles, he appears to be getting his game with the Masters less than a month away.

Whether you're the most ardent golf fan or just a casual observer, it's hard to escape the face of Rickie Fowler, perhaps the most recognizable American golfer not named Tiger or Phil.

Fowler remains one of the marketable young faces of the sport, particularly Stateside on the PGA Tour. His appeal largely stemmed from his unconventional attire, particularly his Sunday Oklahoma State orange from head to toe. That draws interest, fans, and then endorsers, who continue to come to Fowler to star in their commercials.

Fowler is most identified with his Puma gear, not a traditional outfitter when one thinks of golf, but a line making a bit of a push (along with Cobra on the equipment side) thanks to Rickie. But the 25-year-old also has deals with Red Bull, Bushnell, Farmers Insurance, Titleist, and Crowne Plaza, who is rolling out a new set of ads that will pepper the screen this summer and PGA Tour season. They're also the title sponsor of the Tour's annual stop at Colonial, where Fowler is the main draw these days. There was a lot of pub around Fowler getting the honor of starring in his own SportsCenter ad last year, and the Crowne Plaza ones took that same tone all last season. The hotel brand recently released some of the outakes and behind-the-scenes footage of Fowler's most recent shoot at Riviera for this year's videos he's doing for their "Big Win" campaign.

At this point, Fowler is an ace pitchman, and advertisers use his colorful rep to put out ads like Crowne Plaza's set or the "Dick Fowler, PI" character from Farmers.

He's all over the place, and you're going to see at least one Fowler ad, and probably several, every time you watch a PGA Tour broadcast. With just one PGA Tour win, there can be a bit of a backlash about the commercial ubiquity and sponsor deals that Fowler enjoys. When asked recently if he feels added pressure to get more wins and play well with lots of ads out there and more like the Crowne Plaza ones coming, Fowler took the line that nothing can add to the standards he's already putting upon himself. "I think the most pressure comes from myself," he said. "I have such high expectations for myself that other expectations or outside pressure doesn't really make it past my own thoughts and expectations for myself."

"I don't want to get to the point where it is too much." -Rickie Fowler

The deals and ads definitely bring more attention, which in turn brings more scrutiny. Whether it adds pressure for Fowler or not, the scrutiny exists and comes with the popularity; the people trying to be critical are usually quick to cite that one-win record. Do all the deals and time spent pushing product negatively affect his ability to work on his game? "I don't want to get to the point where it is too much," he said. "I am definitely lucky to be in the position I am, to have the partners I do have. I always dreamed about playing on the PGA Tour. A lot of people don't really think about or know what goes on other than just playing Thursday to Sunday."

At 25, there's obviously a long way to go in what should be a successful pro career, and he's working to take the next step this season in particular by enlisting the help of Butch Harmon. Fowler said at the start of the season that he doesn't want to just be known for his clothes and look, and adding Harmon to his "team" (following the blessing of Butch's current star pupil, Phil Mickelson) was a part of that.

As he transitioned to working with Harmon, Fowler hit a bit of a rough spot to start the season and missed three straight cuts on the west coast swing, two of which were in his home state of California. But Rickie said those struggles had less to do with some new swing changes, and more to do with a bad streak of short game play. "I was happy with how quickly things have been clicking," he said of the new moves with Butch. "I feel comfortable with the swing and ball-striking, and I've been swinging it well and hitting the ball well pretty much all year. The missed cuts really weren't a reflection of how I was hitting and how I was playing, I really just wasn't getting the ball up-and-down and wasn't making putts when I needed to."

Fortunately, Fowler turned it around quickly after those three ugly MCs, and came out of nowhere to roll to the final four of the WGC Match Play. "I was able to get things turned around at Match Play, make some good up-and-downs, make some key putts when I needed to and hopefully turned the corner." Given the run of missed cuts and No. 14 seed, no one predicted Fowler would beat Ian Poulter, considered the best match play golfer in the world, and then Jimmy Walker, the hottest golfer in the world, on his way to a five-day stay and third-place finish at one of the season's biggest money events. Even the consolation win over Ernie Els was impressive on Sunday afternoon, capping the rebound week.

The form does seem to be going in the right direction, and he's looked nothing like the player who missed the weekend three straight times. The WGC week was backed up with a solid top 25 at the Honda. He'll tee it up this week at Bay Hill, the fourth and final stop of the Florida swing and an event where he pushed Tiger Woods last year on the way to a T3 finish. Fowler, who said winning a green jacket would be first on his list for any single season goal, is trending toward a contending week at Augusta. Whether he's on the first page of the Masters leaderboard or not in a month, you're still going to see his face that week. For golf and the PGA Tour, desperate to replenish and market stars from the generation after Tiger and Phil, that's probably a good thing.

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