Rickie Fowler’s lack of understatement, on and off the course, could mark him out as one of the sport’s flash little rich kids. Certainly the 25-year-old’s arrival with the United States Ryder Cup team in Scotland on Monday with a “USA” logo shaved into his hair does little to contradict such an image.
The picture, though, is far from accurate. Yes, Fowler may be wealthy, and he enjoys the trappings that come with success in a lucrative profession. However this is a man who has emerged from humble beginnings, who shows substance beyond style, and who will be a key man for his nation at Gleneagles over three days this week. Fowler’s maturity – and his golf – back up any acts of showmanship.
In a similar backdrop to his close friend and rival, Rory McIlroy, Fowler’s parents worked every hour imaginable to provide him with a start in golf. Three other members of Fowler’s family, all in the US and of Japanese descent, were placed in internment camps, including his grandfather at the age of six.
Not only is Fowler well aware of that history – he wrote essays about it during school – it is widely thought to have shaped his life. “My parents were able to provide for me and my sister to play sports and do what we wanted to do,” Fowler says. “But it wasn’t like we were members of a golf club and had extra privileges or anything like that. We kind of always had to earn our way.
“Not that I had to work as a kid; I’ve never had to work, as I get to play golf all the time now. But my mom would always say: ‘If you continue to play golf and always work at that, I’m not going to make you get a job. Focus on this and keep working forward.’ So that was always my thing. Playing golf and trying to get better.”
That approach has served Fowler well, right from the point where tangible reward was at stake. “I would go and play skin games or money games on Friday or a Saturday, but it was more for fun and to put me in competitive situations to help with preparation. The better I played, the more I had to buy new stuff, golf clubs.”
The stakes are considerably higher now. Fowler, quite remarkably, finished inside the top five of every major this year; all that was missing was a maiden victory. The US PGA Championship at Valhalla, which McIlroy won by two strokes, wounded Fowler the most: “That is the one where I look back and it kind of hurts, because that was one where I had a true chance of winning.”
With McIlroy and Fowler both aged 25 and displaying a swashbuckling style, they are rightly regarded as a duo who could influence an emerging generation of golfers. “Between the two of us there’s definitely the possibility of something big developing,” Fowler says. “It’s fun with him and I being buddies. We can still go home and play and practise together and then get to the course and want to beat up on each other as bad as possible.
“There’s a lot of good young players right now; Jordan Spieth is even younger than us. There’s Hideki Matsuyama in Japan, you’ve obviously got some guys in Europe, and Patrick Reed has played well. Maybe Rory and I can lead it up a little bit, but we’re going to have our hands full with some of the other guys, too.
“This definitely won’t be the last Ryder Cup we will play against each other. I said the same thing about being in the final group with him at the Open; you know it’s not going to be the last time we go up against each other. So the more times we can match up and have some good battles, the better.
“I think him and I have the chance of going back and forth for a long time. I have a little catching up to do, he has got the best of me a few times. But both times I have won, he finished second. It has been fun. It will be fun to have a few more matches, especially at the Ryder Cup this year.” – © Guardian News & Media 2014