Dressed in a typically flashy blue and white outfit, Rickie Fowler looks like he will continue his amazing streak of top-five finishes in majors at the 2014 PGA Championship, where he moved into third place at 11 under par.
But something has changed, and it isn't his clothes. In fact, the flair for fashion may be the only thing that hasn’t changed for the 25-year-old Californian this year.
He is focused, aggressive and hitting the ball a ton. The many changes he has made both in attitude and technique have helped him become one of the game's best players at major venues.
A new swing and an aggressive approach led him to a tie for fifth at the Masters and ties for second place at both the U.S. Open and The Open Championship.
After scores of 69, 66 and 67 at Valhalla, he trails only the surprising Bernd Wiesberger and the streaking Rory McIlroy.
That is pretty impressive for a guy who always dazzled with his smile and his style but rarely with his substance. To date, Fowler has only one PGA tour win to his name despite being one of the most well-known players on the tour.
Known for outlandish orange outfits on Sunday more than for playing great, Fowler seems to have matured and gained a renewed self-assurance that has served him well, especially in the majors.
He gained kudos at the U.S. Open when he paid homage to Payne Stewart by wearing knickers. It was a classy display and one that went with both his style and his newfound confidence. Who else could pull that off but Fowler?
Finally, it looks like he is living up to his reputation and his many sponsorships. As Michael Whitmer of The Boston Globe wrote, "...he has transformed himself, at least in the big events, into someone who is getting quite used to being near the lead."
The biggest change in Fowler’s game is in his swing. Working with Butch Harmon, one of the best coaches in the game, he looks like a completely different player from his initial days on the tour. He has gone from an idiosyncratic swing to a repeatable one, and it is paying off.
Harmon, of course, was Tiger Woods’ coach from 1993 to 2004. He has also worked with many notable players on the tour, including Ernie Els, Adam Scott and Fred Couples.
Most of the pros he's worked with have won majors, which may say something about why Fowler’s game is so much better at the most important events of the year. Whatever Harmon is whispering in his ear, it is clearly working.
"Butch has been a big influence this year...with what we've done with the golf swing to make it more efficient and more repetitive and a little less dependent on timing,'' Fowler said, per The Associated Press.
Anyone who watched Fowler’s game in the past will quickly recognize that he is playing with a lot more confidence. Because his swing is less floundering and more consistent, Fowler seems to be more likely to trust it. He has moved from an outside swing plane to one that is more inside.
His downswing is equally traditional, a word that may not have sat well with Fowler the non-conformist but works great with Fowler the golfer. Combined, his backswing and downswing create a “textbook” approach that has turned Fowler into a highly competitive player.
Fowler is not afraid of the big stage. In fact, he seems to relish it. He loves the limelight as evidenced by his fun-loving set of Golf Boys videos made with some of his buddies on the tour, Bubba Watson, Ben Crane and Hunter Mahan.
The youngest player ever to play on a Ryder Cup team in 2010 at 21 years, nine months, Fowler was a controversial captain’s pick but did not shrink under the pressure. In fact, he was a shining light for the team.
After being four down with 12 holes to play, he birdied the last four holes against Edoardo Molinari to halve the match. Later in 2010, he won rookie of the year, beating out Rory McIlroy.
It appears that he and McIlroy are destined to compete on the final day of a major as they did at The Open Championship. They are just a couple of years apart and seem to share the fearlessness that goes with youth.
Prior to this year, Fowler had just two top-10 finishes in 16 majors.
Now people are predicting him to win them.
His game now matches his outgoing personality. He no longer lays up, he is striking the ball with authority, and he actually runs putts by the hole. That is if they don’t go in first.
Fowler never seems flustered no matter how short the putt or how high the rough.
He is playing great in the majors because he is focused on them.
"The main goal going into the year was…to be ready for the majors and go contend in the majors," Fowler told the AP. "I really wouldn’t care less what happened in the other tournaments, just because my main goals were to be ready for the majors."
Spoken like a man on a mission, and by the looks of things, he may just accomplish his goals. With three top-five finishes at the majors this year and a fourth being highly likely, Fowler has all the makings of a player who will regularly appear near the top of the leaderboard at golf's marquee events for years to come.
Fowler now expects to be there at the end battling it out for the big win. That's what he'll be doing on Sunday, and with his talent, he just may get his major breakthrough at Valhalla. Even if he doesn't, the defining moment of his career appears to be well within reach.
Now, not only does he look good, but he plays great.
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