He always has had the boyish good looks.
He always has had the flashy clothes and the big endorsement deals.
He always has had everything that is afforded the modern-day PGA Tour superstar.
But there was something lacking.
Early in his career, Rickie Fowler seemed more sizzle than steak.
However, in the meat of this season – the major championships – the 25-year-old has come into his own, finally achieving the sort of results that we had seen flashes of earlier in his career.
Fowler is the only player to finish in the top five of the first three majors of the season – a tie for fifth at The Masters and ties for second at both the U.S. and British Opens.
The California Kid has pushed the dialogue from whether he could compete consistency at the top level to whether he can break through for that first major victory.
“This year has definitely been the most comfortable I’ve felt in the majors,” Fowler said Wednesday before his practise round at Valhalla Golf Club. “But I think the more that I can put myself in contention on Sunday, and possibly in the final group, I’ll just get more and more comfortable.
“It’s just a matter of time.”
Fowler was in a completely different place last year. He was struggling mentally and physically, and that’s when he hooked up with veteran coach Butch Harmon.
“It started a little over a year ago when I first hit balls with Butch over at The Open Championship,” Fowler said. “I just got to a point where I missed the cut over there and felt like I wasn’t really getting anything out of my game. Confidence wasn’t there and I was still dealing with a little bit of back issues.”
It wasn’t necessarily a swing remake, but Harmon got Fowler back to a point where he could take cuts pain-free and they began working together full-time in Decemeber.
After a slow start to this season, the pair’s work began to pay off.
“The main focus was to be ready to play the majors, and it was nice to take care of business at The Masters and kind of go from there.”
Fowler says Harmon – who has “taken a couple of guys to world No. 1” – has helped him with his mental acuity as well. He has matured in his approach and he has blossomed as a result.
Even his competitors have noticed the change.
“I think he’s feeling comfortable with some of the swing changes he has made, and I think obviously, yeah, it’s maturity, it’s confidence, probably loosening up a little bit,” said Sergio Garcia, who knows a little bit about the maturation process. “You can see that he’s enjoying what he’s doing and he feels great about it, and that’s why he’s playing so well, too.”
Fowler is the same age as Rory McIlroy – the two came through the ranks of amateur golf together and McIlroy was runner-up in both of Fowler’s career professional wins – but he’s not going to get caught up in trying to match his friend’s success.
“(I’ll) keep knocking on the door,” Fowler said. “I don’t think there’s a specific time frame or anything like that. I’m not going to push it, but I’ll be out there giving it my all.”
RICKIE BEING RICKIE
His bright orange garb and flat-brimmed caps have Rickie Fowler running away with the popularity and marketing contest among the tween-to-teen golf demographic.
Fowler turned up to the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst wearing plus-fours in a fitting homage to Payne Stewart, who had won there in 1999.
His California-cool image isn’t something he puts on, though. He comes by it honestly, having taken a non-traditional route to the PGA Tour.
“I don’t exactly seek (the attention) in a way,” Fowler said Wednesday at Valhalla Golf Club, where the gallery will be dotted with tiny tangerine clones. “It’s just me being me.”
While he says he doesn’t seek it, Fowler welcomes it.
“It has been a fun ride for me. It has been a great fit to show off my colourful lifestyle as far as where I grew up and how I grew up, growing up on a public driving range and around action sports (he rides dirt bikes, too) my whole life,” Fowler said. “Not exactly the normal road that guys take to get to the PGA Tour.”
Fowler said he admires Stewart, even though he never met him.
“I look at him as someone that wasn’t exactly seeking the attention,” Fowler said. “He wore the plus-fours because that’s what he wanted to do and he wasn’t really worried about what other people thought about it, whether it was cool or not.”