Rickie Fowler’s Players Win was Art Not GolfRickie Fowler’s victory at the Players Championship, the first major of his career, was a long time in the making. We dug into the archives for our cover story on the 26-year-old golfer to unearth some words of wisdom on his start and his legacy.
Fowler has cited Jeremy McGrath, the “King of Supercross,” credited with kickstarting the death-defying sport of freestyle motocross, as one of his major influences. Which is why for most of his youth, he split time between the driving range and the dirt jumps in his hometown of Murietta, Calif., riding motorbikes and BMX.
“I looked up to McGrath for his work ethic. He came from the same town I’m from, didn’t come from a bunch of money, and figured it out on his own. And obviously he’s one of the greatest riders of all time. If I wasn’t on the golf course I’d be building jumps for mini bikes that I had. I like being in the air—that was kind of a way for me to let loose, have fun. I still get similar adrenaline rushes on the course like I did racing, kind of those make-or-break situations.”
At 3 years old, he’d go fishing and golfing with his Japanese grandfather after school. He showed a natural penchant for the latter, even without any formal training. Even then, as a knee-high grommet barely able to swing his grandpa’s clubs, he knew motocross was but a distraction: Golf was his destiny.
“When I was 7 years old my main dream was to play on the PGA Tour. I don’t know exactly what it was, I just knew from the first time I was out messing around on the driving range I fell in love with it. I don’t know what clicked.”
Fowler is a PGA star seemingly laboratory cloned for the Facebook generation. A music video called “Oh Oh Oh” that he made for a mock boy band called The Golf Boys went viral back in 2011 (with more than 7 million hits and rising to this day). He has almost one million Twitter followers. His video blog shows him running around topless in women’s tennis shorts and practicing the “Happy Gilmore” swing with NFL star Reggie Bush. He’s caddied for Mark Wahlberg, and hit an improbable blind hole-in-one through buildings at a Red Bull event.
“Obviously being recognizable comes with the territory; it’s not something I can run away from if I’m trying to be the best player in the world, I don’t wanna hide from my fans at all. I wanna be someone that kids look up to.”
After a sizzling high school career (he posted an all-time record of 62 on his home course as a freshman), Fowler committed to the Oklahoma State program. He shot a 63 while competing for OSU at Chicago’s Olympia Fields, tying the competitive course record set by PGA Hall of Fame champion Vijay Singh (who set the mark at the 2003 U.S. Open). As a freshman he was awarded the illustrious Ben Hogan Award—golf’s version of the Heisman Trophy—and ranked as the number-one amateur golfer in the world for 36 consecutive weeks between 2007 and 2008. When Fowler went pro at the end of 2009, he tied for seventh in his first PGA event. The second? He tied for second, barely eluding victory in a playoff loss. It was the beginning of a red-hot first season for which he won the highly competitive PGA Rookie of the Year in 2010. That year Fowler also became the youngest American ever invited to join the Ryder Cup team; no golfer before Fowler had reached the Ryder Cup within a year of playing in the Walker Cup, its amateur equivalent. Fowler’s coach at Oklahoma State University, Mike McGraw, remembers his first recruiting trip to see the wunderkind play.
“I’d heard about him but I’d never seen him play, and I was mesmerized. I loved the way he played the game, like people might’ve played 30 or 40 years ago. By feel, the excitement. He has the ability to just play instead of just working on technique. He’s more of an artist than a golfer. He’s creating things all the time.”