The Open: Rickie Fowler’s brash attire masks game suited to subtleties of the links
This is what you’ll want to know. Today, Rickie Fowler will be wearing the Raglan Jacquard polo shirt, the Solid 5 PKT Tech pants held up by the High Shine fitted belt. Up top he’ll have the Monoline 210 cap and on his feet he’ll have the Super Cell Fusion ICE shoes, built for comfort and available online if you don’t mind selling a kidney first to pay for it.
It’s one thing having your golf bag full of weapons that have been manufactured by boffins but quite another to have your wardrobe looking like it was designed by NASA. To our knowledge, Fowler hasn’t yet revealed the science behind his underpants but we’re guessing they’re going by the name of Duo-Swing Kinetic kex. Quite honestly, Fowler’s attire makes Ian Poulter look like Val Doonican. Heaven knows what colours he’ll be in this week, but you can bet your life that it’ll be loud as hell. Rickie doesn’t do subtle. The first Open champion bedecked in orange? You couldn’t rule it out.
His clobber is garish but in his interviews, the guy is as understated as can be. If his personality matched his gear then he’d be whopping and hollering his way through his interviews, but he doesn’t. Fowler is restrained and likeable. That’s what people say about him. “Good kid, Rickie”. As much as everyone in the game is sold on Rory McIlroy, there was a near worldwide contentment when Fowler beat him in the play-off for the Wells Fargo championship at Quail Hollow earlier in the year. It was Fowler’s first victory on the PGA tour and it was long overdue.
He is 23 years old and has already grasped the concept of links golf and the frustrations within. Phil Mickelson freely admits that it took him an awfully long time to learn how to play, and to love, these golf courses. With Fowler it happened almost instantly. He tells a story about last year at Sandwich. Third round, biblical conditions. A day when many lost the plot and blew themselves out of contention. Fowler, on the other hand, shot 68 and put himself back in the hunt, just three strokes behind Darren Clarke going into Sunday.
“The worst conditions, hands down, that I’ve ever played in were last year on the Saturday. I remember my caddie came to me – we were in the locker room before going out – and he said he’d watched Tom Watson hit a few shots. He [Watson] just looked like he was hitting his shot and walking forward and moving on. My caddie just said to me, ‘Some guys aren’t going to like it but if we can go out and make some fun of it and keep moving forward we could make up a lot of ground,’ which we did. It ended up being a lot of fun. Some guys don’t like playing in poor weather. I definitely think there are guys that are not looking at the weather the right way and kind of beat themselves before they tee off.”
Playing in the Walker Cup at Royal County Down in 2009 – unbeaten in his four matches – started a process that has brought us here today with Fowler considered a real live contender for the Claret Jug. He’s played two Open championships and has finished in the top 15 both times, 14th at St Andrews in 2010 and fifth at Sandwich last year. Of the eight rounds he’s played, some of them in truly horrendous conditions, he has only recorded one bad score, a 79 on the Thursday two years ago, a performance he describes as not too bad given the kind of weather he was playing in that day.
“It was my only rough round,” he says. “And I really didn’t play that bad. It was a bit windy and it played tough. I made a triple and a double coming home. I was only a couple over and then made a couple of numbers coming in and turned a decent round into a 79 pretty quickly. Ever since then I’ve played very well over here. Maybe if I didn’t turn around from the 79 at St Andrews it could have been a different story.”
The 79 in his first round in an Open championship was followed by a 67, a 71 and another 67. Last year he went 70-70-68-72, the maturity of his play and his refusal to buckle under the assault from the weather gods being one of the features of the week outside of Clarke’s heroics. Two championships, two top-15s, eight rounds and nearly every one of them showing that he doesn’t just have the ability to play links golf but also the mindset. Clad in orange and something of a lookalike for Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, he looked the total antithesis of what an Open contender should look like. When he said he relished the battle in the wind and the rain, though, you knew he meant it, for he had the scorecard to prove it.
Fowler talks of the way he was taught to play the game; the “old school” teachings of a man called Barry McDonnell, who began instructing Fowler from the age of seven when he was hanging out at the Murrieta Valley golf range in California and then right through to his college years. “He never used video or anything. So, basically, I learned the game as you would if it had been 1950 versus 1995. It was a great way for me to be brought up, a very different way to today’s day and age. He [McDonnell] was a big Ben Hogan believer.”
Golf ran in the McDonnell family, Barry having been mentored by his grandfather, a Scot, who spent 60 years as the professional at the New Bedford club in Massachusetts. Fowler used to swing his dad’s driver in those days. McDonnell, who passed away in 2010, always felt that the reason Fowler had such strength in his hands and forearms was because he was so used to wielding a heavy club as a boy. “I don’t try to make them all look alike,” McDonnell said a few years back. “Golf is more an art form than a science. I let kids find their own personality in their swings. With Rickie, we used to work on shots all the time. We were always working on trying shots instead of just hitting balls. Little kids don’t get bored that way.”
Fowler has seen his compatriots win some big championships of late; Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson all taking majors in the last year. Such is the unpredictable nature of golf these days that nobody on earth would have predicted those guys would win a big one before the young Californian, but they have and it’s not lost on Fowler. “It’s been a lot of fun to watch but also just a kick in the butt to get out and want it more,” he says. “It’s fun to watch some of your good friends win, but at the same time you’d rather be there than them.”
Come Sunday, he might not be all that far away.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 22 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North