What Rickie Fowler Must Do to Get over the Hump at 2014 PGA Championship

Mike DudurichContributor IJuly 22, 2014

Rickie Fowler made a strong run at Rory McIlroy in The Open Championship.
Rickie Fowler made a strong run at Rory McIlroy in The Open Championship.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The answer to the question of what Rickie Fowler must do to get over the hump at the PGA Championship is simple: Don't miss your tee time in Round 1.

That's not to say Fowler is a lock to win at Valhalla. If anybody gets that tag, it's Rory McIlroy, who won the British Open last weekend.

But Fowler does not need to make many changes to his game. The 25-year-old finished in the top five in the first three majors of the year. With a bounce here or there or one more roll on a putt, those finishes might have been different.

He led The Open Championship with 23 birdies last week. He hit 36 fairways and 51 greens in regulation. By contrast, McIlroy made 20 birdies, 27 fairways and 51 greens.

Rickie Fowler did a lot of good things at Royal Liverpool.
Rickie Fowler did a lot of good things at Royal Liverpool.Scott Heppell/Associated Press

That's why there's really no reason for him to make any major changes in his game or grind away at a practice range trying to find the one thing that's keeping him from grabbing his first major title.

The young man who wears Oklahoma State orange on Sundays is playing well in the majors. But he's having an outstanding season overall. Two seconds, a third and five top 10s have led to him earning $3.1 million in 20 starts.

What he's done this year has made him the top American player, especially given the difficulties of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson

It's been quite enjoyable watching him mature from the quiet, cocky kid with the long hair and flat-brimmed hats who created a great splash when he turned pro in 2009. At that point and for several years after, he was a lot more style than substance.

But he's showing plenty of substance now. He joined Butch Harmon's talented stable of players before the start of this season, cut his hair and has stood up to the game's toughest tests very nicely.

Here's a stat for you: The total par for the first three majors is 856. Fowler has compiled a total of 838. In other words, he's 18 under par in those three tournaments.

Rory McIlroy watches one of Rickie Fowler's shots in Sunday's final round.
Rory McIlroy watches one of Rickie Fowler's shots in Sunday's final round.Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The now-mustachioed Fowler has put up spectacular numbers, but what might be even more impressive is how he's handled the situations and places he's found himself in since the beginning of the year.

He still has just one win on the PGA Tour, the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship, but he certainly doesn't seemed to be fazed by the added pressure of trying to win majors on even bigger stages.

“But with how comfortable I’ve been, it doesn’t feel like a big stage. It feels like I should be here,” Fowler said to Hank Gola of the New York Daily News. “I’m definitely pleased with it. There’s plenty more to come."

Even becoming a member of something of a dubious club at Royal Liverpool didn't make him waver from the good place he finds himself.

When he posted rounds of 69-69-68-67, he joined Ernie Els (who did it twice) and Jesper Parnevik as the only players to shoot four rounds in the 60s and not win the British Open.

"It's hard to be disappointed about it because it was such a great week," Fowler said to ESPN.com's Ian O'Connor. "And with the way I had been playing in the majors, there was some pressure to play well this week. ... I'll take 15 under in a lot of majors and sit there and wait in the clubhouse."

Something else Fowler can wait for is the end of September, when he'll be a member of the United States Ryder Cup team that will meet Europe at Gleneagles in Scotland.

His finish in The Open Championship earned him 1,500 Ryder Cup points, and he now sits in third place, behind Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker. Barring something disastrous or miraculous, depending on the point of view, he's locked up his first opportunity to play in this esteemed event.

I have to admit, I'm not completely sold on the idea that Fowler is going to become a multiple-major champion or battle for the the No. 1 spot in the world. He's emerging into a star player, though, no doubt about it.

But as more and more players improve, making fields deeper and deeper, it gets tougher and tougher to win. If he hasn't realized it yet, Tiger Woods will find that out when he gets back to playing like an elite player.

The only thing Fowler needs to do before the PGA Championship?

Keep on doing what he's been doing.


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