LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA | Is Rickie Fowler the most popular American golfer of the day? There were 22,000 spectators each day on the grounds of Los Angeles Country Club last week, and at times it seemed as if every one wanted Fowler, 34, to cap his recent return to form by winning the U.S. Open after leading outright after 36 holes thanks to rounds of 62 and 68.
Ask 10 people why Fowler is so popular and most would say: “It’s because he is always the same” or words to that effect. One insider in the caravanserai that follows golfers from one tournament to another watched in horror as a very well-known golfer put on a smiling face and willingly signed autographs for children, only to change his demeanour moments later when out of sight and berate the tour official who was driving him.
No one can recall Fowler losing his temper. The day he is heard to shout would be the first. It helps, especially in Hollywood, that he could be the double of Leonardo DiCaprio. Like Johnny Depp without facial hair, Fowler has cheekbones you could slice beef with.
Asked why he thought he was so popular, Fowler replied: “I am not sure. I never planned to have kids want to look up to me or follow me or anything like that. I feel like I’ve always been myself. I don’t try and do anything different to anyone else. I do feel like kids or the youth are good judges of character, so I am going to take that as a compliment. I sure hope I come off as genuine. I feel like I’m just being myself out here, and I love what I get to do.”
To reach this level of fandom requires more than just good manners. Fowler has been to the top of the game, plunged and now has climbed his way back. Once, he startled the world of golf with his play. In 2010, the late Arnold Palmer described him as “a rock star” for the way he won the last three holes of his singles match to halve against Edoardo Molinari at the 2010 Ryder Cup. In 2014, Fowler was the only man to finish in the top five of all four major championships. The next year, he won the Players Championship, the next best thing to a major championship.
The way Fowler conducted himself during this difficult time is in part why he has won so many friends. Jordan Spieth knows what Fowler went through because he experienced something similar, perhaps worse.
It was then that the game turned on him. His play, which once had lit up golf, dimmed as if a light had been turned down. As high as fourth in the Official World Golf Ranking in February 2016, he plunged to No. 185 in September 2022.
The way Fowler conducted himself during this difficult time is in part why he has won so many friends. Jordan Spieth knows what Fowler went through because he experienced something similar, perhaps worse. “The most difficult thing about struggling is when you’ve had a lot of success and therefore it’s impossible to struggle in silence, in darkness, and get your work done in the dark,” Spieth said. “There is just so much noise going around and so much emphasis on results versus the true understanding of what your end goal is and how much time that can take in golf.”
Fowler, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour, has not won in 3½ years, and he has yet to win one of golf’s four major championships. Spurred on by some stinging words from instructor Butch Harmon, Fowler rededicated himself to the game, and slowly that form of old began to return.
He posted four top-10 finishes in 2023, including a sixth at the Charles Schwab Challenge and ninth at the Memorial in consecutive weeks this spring. By the start of last week here, he had gotten back to 45th in the world, and his tie for fifth at LACC will take him even higher in the world ranking.
From leading on his own for the first two rounds and then tying with eventual winner Wyndham Clark after 54 holes, Fowler fell back in the last round to finish five strokes behind Clark. His 75 on Sunday was 13 strokes worse than his first day’s Open-record score, as well as tied for the worst score of any of the top 20 players. Yet, there was no doubt that Fowler, the people’s hero, was back. The cheers, the roars, the encouragement he received from the moment he appeared on the golf course to the moment he left confirmed that.
Welcome back, Rickie. We have missed you.