D’Angelo: Rickie Fowler’s game remains work in progress, but new daughter adds perspective

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Rickie Fowler is doing just fine.

His golf game remains a work in progress, although he’s optimistic even following his 2-over 72 Thursday at the Honda Classic that puts him in danger of missing his fourth cut in five events. But the first-time dad is loose, relaxed and enjoying time with his family, despite recent struggles on the golf course.

“I’ve always been good at looking at things as far as … there’s a lot more to life than just playing golf and what happens out here,” the Jupiter resident said before his opening round.

“It makes things a lot easier when you’re playing well but playing poor golf doesn’t mean that you’re unhappy or things at home are bad or anything like that.”

Fowler and his wife, Allison Stokke, welcomed their first child into the world, daughter Maya Fowler, on Nov. 18. Rickie took off two months before getting back on the road and continuing to search for the game that once had him at No. 4 in the world.

But that didn’t mean he was released from those daddy duties. When Fowler rejoined the Tour on the West Coast, the entire family was in tow. Rickie and Allison backed their bags, and Maya’s, too, taking their daughter on her first road trip, starting in La Quinta, Calif., with stops in San Diego; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Pacific Palisades.

“It was very nice to be able to have them on the road for those five and a half weeks with all of us being together,” Rickie said. “It’s not easy traveling with a little one, hopping around houses to hotels and different stuff like that.

“It’s definitely a big change. I have to be a little more efficient with time and how it’s spent, when and how and where.”

Fowler’s dip has him at his lowest world ranking (121) in 12 years. His last win was three years ago at the Phoenix Open. Since, he has 20 top 25 finishes and 21 missed cuts.

And Thursday was a snapshot of how it’s gone of late for Fowler. With birdies on No. 3, 4 and 6, Fowler was 3-under entering the ninth hole. He gave all that back, and then some, on the next three holes with a double-bogey on No. 9 and back-to-back bogeys on 10 and 11.

He was back to even after a birdie on No. 14, but a double on the par 5 No. 18 sabotaged the round.

At the Farmers Insurance Open one month ago, Fowler followed a 66 in the opening round with a 76 and missed the cut.

“It was really only a couple of swings and this golf course,” he said Thursday. “A couple of swings that maybe go the wrong way on the wrong hole and yeah, they bite you pretty quickly.”

Those swings occurred on No. 9 and 18. Fowler’s tee shot on No. 9 didn’t clear the water, and his second shot on No. 18 found a watery grave short of the green.

“You’re not going to get around 72 holes perfectly clean,” Fowler said. “At the same time, you don’t want to go around and play super-defensive trying not to make mistakes. You still got to be aggressive, you got to go play golf, take some risks, make sure they’re calculated and accept consequences when you do make a bad swing.”

Fowler’s optimism is admirable through a precipitous drop. It’s not long ago he was top 10 in world, winning the Players Championship, finishing second in the Masters, playing on Ryder Cup teams and in the FedExCup Playoffs.

Last year, he missed out on the FedExCup Playoffs for the first time in his career and did not quality for the Masters or the U.S. Open and needed a special exemption to get into the PGA Championship.

Something that allows him to remain optimistic is a support group that includes such peers as Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay and the late-night conversations that can turn into therapeutic skull sessions on the road.

“We all talk about different stuff and how guys are doing, especially Jordan and I,” Fowler said. “I was kind of going (into his slump) as he was starting to come out. It’s part of golf. In a way it’s part of life, as well. Everyone that’s played at a high level has gone through the ups and downs. There’s no one that’s ever stayed at the top. It’s part of it.”

Spieth started the 2016 season No. 1 in world and was low as No. 92 early in the 2021 season. The climb back has been as swift. Spieth was No. 12 by the summer of 2021 and currently sits at No. 14.

“I’m clawing my way out,” Fowler said. “I would have liked it to have happened a little sooner than it has. But being there with your friends that have gone through it or going through it together, I know they have my back. I’ve always had their back. It makes it a lot easier when you have people on your side.”

And a newborn who reminds him to keep things in perspective.