Will 2014 Be Rickie Fowler's Breakout Season?

Mike DudurichContributor IFebruary 26, 2014

Yes, that's Rickie Fowler in the orange shirt and the short hair.
Yes, that's Rickie Fowler in the orange shirt and the short hair.Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

You remember Rickie Fowler, the young gun from Oklahoma State, the kid with the long, floppy hair under hats with bills far too big.

All kinds of talent, a great amateur career, handsome, dirt-bike riding fanatic in his younger days, Rickie Fowler has it all.

Even with all of that, he has just one win since he hit the PGA Tour, causing a considerable stir in the world of golf. At the ripe old age of 25, the wonder kid has been to the winner's circle just once.

Guess what? The guy with only one win on the PGA Tour has won over $11 million. And the truth is that 2012 season, in which he won the Wells Fargo Championship, could have been even better.

He was in the next-to-last group in the final round of the Memorial Tournament but managed to shoot an 84 to fall out of contention quickly.

Matt York/Associated Press

This very well could be the year he breaks through that glass ceiling. Why? Well for a couple of reasons, actually.

First, he is 25. Fowler has managed to get through the growing years as a professional golfer rather nicely, I'd say. He's posted 24 top-10 finishes and 43 top-25 finishes. The kid can play.

He started out this season with a T19 in the CIMB Classic in the fall part of the 2013-14 season, and after five less-than-sparkling outings, he finished third in the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.

The second reason I'm being bullish on Fowler is for the first time since his swing coach, Barry McDonnell, died in 2011, he has a new swing coach. And the guy he hired has a glittering resume.

You may recognize some of his students and former students. Do the names Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson ring any bells?

Yes, Butch Harmon is the man, and he's been working with Fowler since December 2013.

Harmon has had a major stable of players over the years, led by Woods and Mickelson, and he knows talent.

"I love the kid," Harmon told Tim Rosaforte in a Golf Digest story. "The thing I like is he's been saying 'I want to be known more for my golf than my clothes and my hat. I want to contend in majors.'"

Fowler showed up at the Northern Trust Open with those long locks gone and the straight bill look on his golf hats. The new compact swing has taken a bit of time to yield results, but Fowler loves it.

"I've been swing well," he said in a Steve DiMeglio USA Today article. "The swing feels really comfortable. I know a lot of people question whether it's swing changes (causing poor play) or if I'm not comfortable with it. But really I just need to get the putter warmed back up."

Look, this guy can play. He averages 298 yards off the tee, but his issues previously have been keeping those bombs in the short grass. He only does that about 57 percent of the time.

That should be something that could be corrected by the instruction Harmon is providing along with that more compact swing.

Fowler is absolutely right when he talks about his putting. It's been miserable thus far in 2014. He's ranked 174th in the "strokes gained putting" category. Very few winners on the PGA Tour are lousy putters.

He's made a name for himself with his colorful clothing, but that's not what he wants to be known for when he's 40 years old. Right now, however, those clothes might be the only way golf fans will be able to recognize him because his short hair cut gives him a totally different look.

Fowler was one of that long line of players who was going to be the next great one when he hit the PGA Tour. His inability to win for the first time, and then just the one win, put him in that "good but not great" category.

He has the toolshe's shown that. His decision to not get together with another swing coach for a year-and-a-half is somewhat curious, but he's taken the step to one of the best in the game.

It all seems to be coming together for Fowler, and if it does, 2014 could be a spectacular breakout year for him.