What's Behind Rickie Fowler's Improved Performance in 2014 Majors?

Mike DudurichContributor IJune 19, 2014

Rickie Fowler wanted to record memories from the trophy ceremonies at Pinehurst.
Rickie Fowler wanted to record memories from the trophy ceremonies at Pinehurst.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Through most of his young professional career, the phrase "style over substance" fit the golf game of Rickie Fowler.

Fowler came to the PGA Tour a highly decorated amateur and collegiate player, a colorful dresser, and a genuinely nice young man. But his game did not keep up with the rest of his overall makeup.

The Oklahoma State alum won the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship, has posted six runner-up finishes and has made nearly $13 million. Plenty of players who either have played or are playing today on the PGA Tour would take those numbers and call it a career.

Fowler, however, is not in that group. The 25-year-old has had the look of greatness surrounding him for a long time, and it continues to be his ultimate goal.

Rickie Fowler has had a major smile this year on the PGA Tour.
Rickie Fowler has had a major smile this year on the PGA Tour.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

After last week's T2 finish in the U.S. Open, Fowler, on the record with Tulsa World's John Klein, referenced that goal and how he's working toward it: "It’s kind of the same way handling rounds at the U.S. Open. You can’t get ahead of yourself. You have to stay patient. You have to stay in the moment and keep going through the process."

Could the answer to the question of what's behind Fowler's success in 2014's first two majors be as simple as the tutelage of Butch Harmon and becoming more mature?

Yes, it could.

Fowler had been without a swing coach since his longtime coach, Barry McConnell, died in 2011. In December of 2013, Fowler started working with Harmon, one of the best coaches in golf. The two have worked on changes in Fowler's swing as well as how the superstar-in-waiting approaches the game.

Getting comfortable with swing changes has brought about expected ups and down for Fowler. He's had 19 starts on the PGA Tour and has missed seven cuts. He's also had a T5 finish in the Masters among his four top 10s.

Playing in the U.S. Open's final group Sunday—with the eventual champion—and hanging on to shoot 72 seems like another step in the right direction.

Again, Fowler reiterated his progress to Klein: "I felt really comfortable, which is a very good thing. I have only played a handful of final groups and this is my first one in a major. The more experience you can get in the final groups and especially in majors and in contention at majors, it definitely helps out for down the road."

With maturity comes comfort, and even under the oppressive heat of a U.S. Open final round, Fowler seemed at ease with himself, his game and everything around him. That kind of demeanor is, perhaps, just as important as the scores he posted.

His playing partner on Sunday, Martin Kaymer, was asked to characterize Fowler and his play.

"Very aggressive. Very brave. Just a solid player,'' Kaymer said, per Bob Harig of ESPN.com. "He doesn't make many mistakes mentally. He doesn't make many mistakes strategy-wise."

Fowler certainly hasn't made many mistakes in his off-course career. He and his management team have made his Sunday orange extremely popular among young golf fans. He does cool commercials and ads targeted to reach a younger demographic and appears to have a great time doing it.

But something Fowler did in the first round at Pinehurst last week showed he's more than just a Gen X kid who plays golf.

Fowler made his way from the clubhouse dressed in a blue shirt, white knickers and argyle socks in a tribute to the late Payne Stewart, who made that look famous on the PGA Tour before his untimely death in 1999.

"Payne was one of my all-time favorite players," Fowler said, per Christine Brennan of USA Today. "I never had a chance of meeting him, but I obviously loved watching him play and loved how he handled himself on and off the golf course."

The kid has it all. Everything points to him becoming one of the best in the game. He is on a path with Harmon to get himself into contention on a regular basis at major championships.

Fowler has already proved to be a huge hit as a marketing and commercial entity.

He's exactly what the PGA Tour and golf in the United States need, transitioning from the glory days of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to the next generation of stars.

Should Fowler find himself on an 18th green holding up a major championship trophy, the possibilities seem endless.