Rickie Fowler has turned up this week with all the assurance of a man who is at peace with life and the challenge ahead in what has become his first multiple-win season and one he wants to enhance by carrying off a first major title.
It was at St Andrews in 2010 when the man who won last week’s Scottish Open to add to the Players Championship he took in May says he first realised the links game with which he had dabbled since appearing in the USA Walker Cup team in 2007 suited him rather well, allowing him to draw on skills he picked up perhaps unwittingly in his years at school and college.
“I’ve always enjoyed links golf but when I really believed that I could win over here was after my start of 79 shots here, my first time out at St Andrews, and then I shot a 67 to make the cut and went on to have a great weekend, ending up finishing 14th,” Fowler recalled. “That was the time that I believed that I could put together some rounds in some tough conditions.”
He proved it playing through a monsoon on the Saturday at Royal St George’s in 2011, signing for a two-under 68 on his way to a share of fifth place. This time he starts as one American who is relishing the idea of taking on the elements. “I try to just go out and have fun with it. It may not be the warmest weather, the driest weather, but you’ve got a tee time, go tee it up and make the best of it,” he said.
That attitude stems from his college in Oklahoma state where he preferred to get out and play rather than practise indoors. “I think the coldest I played in was 27F (-3C), so below zero,” he added. “I enjoyed playing rather than hitting balls so I didn’t want to hit balls in the barn. Over there you’d get some crazy wind, so that helped with my wind game too. You’ve got to wrap up, you’ve got to figure it out.”
The shot visualisation which has enhanced Fowler’s links game he attributes to learning to play at the Murrieta Valley driving range in California. Essentially he was hitting into a “bare field”, when he preferred to be more creative, so the imagination took over.
Perhaps surprisingly his close friend Bubba Watson, who won the Travelers Championship in a play-off from Paul Casey last month, said he has problems seeing shots in tough conditions, leading Fowler to suggest that maybe he was “trying to fool you guys”.
“The way I like to move it, in heavy winds is pretty difficult,” Watson said. “For me it is harder to hit the straight shots because I don’t see the straight shots. I’ve got to learn that around here. I haven’t done it very well yet. I just move it a lot. And it’s not because I want to. I want to be like the greats of the game, hit the ball dead straight. I just can’t do it.”
That said, the two-times Masters champion has already earmarked the local Domino’s pizzeria as a potential venue to celebrate should he win and join Fowler as a multiple winner for 2015, and he knows from past experience there is a Subway in the town. And he was not bluffing that time.
This article was written by Mark Tallentire at St Andrews, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 14th July 2015 21.24 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010