NEWS FROM THE TOUR VANS
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Two former stars are toiling in relative obscurity, and both are hoping a recent flatstick change could propel them back to their previous standing as world-class putters.
The first is Rickie Fowler, now 33 years old, who fell to 140th in the world as of last week. It’s the worst he has been ranked since February of 2010 in the early stages of his rookie campaign. The dramatic fall-off is a surprise considering that Fowler went 10 consecutive seasons finishing in the top 50 in the world, and five of those seasons saw him finish in the top 15.
Now he is fighting for relevance. Last season, Fowler finished 134th in the FedEx Cup standings and missed the playoffs. This season, he has a tie for third at the C.J. Cup and no other top-20 finishes, which puts him at No. 122 in the standings as of last week. He is playing this week’s PGA Championship based on his tie for eighth in the event last year, but he did not qualify for the Masters or Players Championship and is not exempt for the U.S. Open or Open Championship.
Fowler’s PGA Tour status is secure for the time being. His 2015 Players Championship win gave him a five-year exemption, and his two subsequent PGA Tour wins added another two years to the exemption, meaning he has full status through the 2022-23 season. Even if he didn’t make the playoffs or win a tournament in the next two years, Fowler would have the ability to use at least one career money list exemption. He is No. 23 on the all-time list, meaning he could potentially use both the top 25 and top 50 money list exemptions to add two seasons. Using each of them is a one-time deal, but it’s an option.
How did he get here? To say it bluntly, this is not an aberration — both Fowler’s ballstriking and putting have been getting considerably worse for some time now. In 2015-16, his strokes gained tee-to-green ranking was No. 8. He fell with each passing season, going from eighth to 13th to 21st to 47th to 49th to 89th. In 2018-19, he was the No. 13 strokes gained putter on the PGA Tour. He then went to 60th and then 126th and then 161st.
The putting struggles in particular have been demoralizing. Fowler has been switching putters with frequency and limited success, but his latest switch offered promising feedback. He went to a Cobra King Stingray-20 mallet at the Wells Fargo Championship and gained over four strokes on the greens during his tie for 21st finish. We’ll be monitoring if that was a flash in the pan or the beginning of a more sustainable turnaround.
Jason Day is in a similar position. The former world No. 1 has now sunk to No. 119 in the world as of last week, this coming not long after Day went 11 consecutive years finishing the calendar year in the top 50.
Like Fowler, Day is struggling in multiple areas but could desperately use a spark on the greens. At the height of his powers, putting was his main strength. He ranked No. 2 in strokes gained putting for the 2017-18 season, but then fell off from there, slipping to 30th then 62nd then 95th. He is 83rd this season.
“I remember a year and a half ago I put two tees between either side of my putter and I couldn’t stroke it between the two tees,” Day said last week. “I was more concerned about the putting more so than the actual swing itself.”
In an attempt to rekindle his mojo, Day is going back to an old friend with his TaylorMade Spider Limited Red. He was the first to make the putter popular back at the 2016 Players Championship, but he went away from old faithful last year.
It was a mixed bag at the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago where Day came storming out of the gates with his old putter but ultimately lost strokes as he struggled on the weekend. Still, his tie for 15th finish in the event was probably enough to convince him to keep it in the bag.