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San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Rickie Fowler Is Underrated

Maybe you read the story about the anonymous survey given by Sports Illustrated to the PGA touring pros in this country.  Then again, if you are not a follower of golf you probably know nothing about it.  If you are interested, here is the story.  There were many questions asked of what one person working a PGA tournament once described within my earshot as "millionaire Prima Donnas."  The question that received the most notoriety was in regards to who the players believe to be the most overrated within their ranks.  Rising to the top of the list of most overrated players were Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler.
No doubt contributing to Poulter's ranking as the most overrated player in golf were his own comments about his level of play, made in 2008.  Here is what he said, "Don't get me wrong, I really respect every professional golfer, but I know I haven't played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger."  Ian Poulter has a grand total of 2 PGA wins and 12 wins on the European tour.  Tiger, in comparison, has 79 PGA wins and 40 on the European tour.  I suspect that Poulter's grandiose view of himself is what contributed to his number one ranking as the most overrated player on the tour.  But what of Rickie Fowler? Why is he the number two most overrated player on the tour?
Have you ever heard of Rickie Fowler?  If you are not a golfer you probably do not know his name.  Everyone, including non-golfers, knows the names of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.  For a player to truly be overrated it seems to me it should be the case that he has become a household name without any palmares to back it up.   Rickie Fowler, unless I am way off on this, has most certainly not become a household name.  That makes it hard for me to understand how he can be considered overrated.  But what of his record?  Has he made a name for himself as a golfer?
Fowler, age 27, was the number one ranked amateur golfer for 36 weeks in 2007 and 2008.  Like his buddy Bubba Watson, Fowler is almost exclusively self taught.  Despite the lack of professional instruction Fowler was 7-1 in Walker Cup play.  After his final Walker Cup tournament he turned professional, winning PGA Rookie of the Year in 2010.  Since turning pro he has won two tournaments, most recently last week's Player's Championship.  He has steadily improved his World Ranking over the years, despite the dearth of victories.  In 2014 he became only the third player, along with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, to finish in the top 5 in all four of golf's major championships in one year.  That steady play propelled him to the number 10 spot in the World Rankings by the end of last year. 
Prior to last week Fowler had gone three years without a victory.  His level of play has been of the highest caliber otherwise he would not have risen to number ten in the world but he was without the victories coveted by those at the top.  Then,  just prior to the Player's Championship, the story about his being the second most overrated player were released. Fair or unfair?
Despite the fact that his peers consider him to be highly overrated, Rickie is not an unpopular player within the tour.  His name will occasionally show up  on lists of the nicest or most likeable players on the tour, even when the people being polled are fellow PGA members.  As far as I am aware his name has never shown up on a "most hated player" list.  He has a good reputation with the public and one of the largest followings on the PGA tour today.  And that, I believe, is where the reputation for being overrated originates.
I have had the pleasure of attending a fair number of PGA tournaments over the years.  I enjoy milling about the crowds and following as many players as I can over the course of the day.  I like watching the players as they perform under pressure.  I read of a man once who said that he could learn everything he wanted to know about the character of a man simply by playing one round of golf with him.  I think there is some truth to that statement.  I can see a lot about the character of the men who play on the tour just by watching how they respond to the highs and lows which come up during the match. I don't know how much the players hear the crowds.  Some of them seen so intent upon the goal at hand it appears as if they do not realize anyone is standing around them.  Others are much more interactive with the crowds, speaking with the gallery and hand-slapping between the green and next tee box.  But I can't imagine that any player is immune from the impact of the crowd during the course of a round. 
When  Fowler emerged upon the scene he came in as a young man willing to push some of the limits of golfing propriety.  Don't misunderstand, he was not intent upon setting a record for the use of F-bombs, as Tiger loves to do, or intent upon throwing his clubs into the lake, as Tiger likes to do.  His primary initial impact upon the tour was his style of dress.  He wore bold colors, sported long hair and covered his mop-top with a flat billed cap reminiscent of some sort of street thug more so than a golfer.  He had the reputation of being a moto-cross rider who taught himself how to play golf and who, one day, simply showed up at the tour.  The response of the public to this new face was strong.  Young people in particular began to attend PGA events, following Fowler around like a little Arnie's Army and wearing the same bold clothing in which their hero was attired.  I personally saw the impact of Rickie Fowler on my own local golf courses as younger players began wearing the same style of clothing as Fowler and attempting to imitate his style of play.  Unlike the wretchedly negative impact I perceived as a result of the Tiger Woods phenomena, the impact of Fowler upon his youthful following was positive.  I have witnessed many young Tiger wannabes throw clubs, tear divots and curse over the years but I have never seen a Fowler wannabe behave in that fashion.
Fowler is an accomplished golfer.  One does not rise to the number ten world ranking without being good.  I believe the primary reason his peers deemed him to be overrated stems directly from his popularity with the galleries and the fact that he has not been a big winner on the tour, a tour which emphasizes winning, rather than steady play, above everything else.  I also believe a fair bit of envy could be showing itself in the anonymous survey.  Other players have been paying their dues on the tour for years, perhaps also with a victory or two under their belts, and they have little to no following.  When they see this young upstart with an enormous following it is inevitable that the concept of being overrated will come up.
After last Sunday I doubt anyone will be able to declare that Rickie Fowler is overrated and retain any credibility as a golf analyst.  What he accomplished in the final ten holes of the tournament was nothing short of spectacular.  Here is the way the final holes were dispassionately described in an article about the last round, "Trailing Sergio Garcia midway through the final round by five shots, Fowler played the final six holes in 6-under par, including an eagle at the par-5 16th. After a birdie at the famous 17th hole, Fowler's final birdie of the round on 18 left him at 12-under par. Both García and Kevin Kisner had birdie attempts to win at the 18th in regulation, but both missed and the three men went to a three-hole aggregate playoff to decide a winner on holes 16–18. Fowler and Kisner went par-birdie-par to tie at −1 while García's three pars left him at even and he was eliminated. Thus Fowler and Kisner went to sudden death starting at the 17th, where Kisner's tee shot landed within about 12 feet (3.7 m) of the cup. Fowler answered with a shot inside of five feet, and when Kisner's birdie attempt slid by, Fowler responded by making his short birdie to claim the championship. Fowler played his final 10 holes in 8-under par."
Like I said, that was a dispassionate description of what took place.  Golf commentator Johnny Miller, not known for his effusive praise of golfers and on record criticizing Fowler for his golfing attire, was almost overwhelmed by emotion as he described the final holes.  He confessed that what he was witnessing was choking him up and nearly moving him to tears due to the sheer beauty of what Fowler was accomplishing during that amazing run of holes.  Fowler himself was locked into a picture of concentration during that series of golf shots.  No doubt he wanted to send a message to those who considered him to be overrated.  If you are not a golf fan it might be hard to conceive precisely what it was that Fowler accomplished by going eight under par on his final ten holes at the Players.  Needless to say it was a powerful display of masterful golf that will be remembered by golf fans for years to come.  So, no, I don't think Rickie Fowler is overrated.  If anything he is underrated.

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