Rickie Fowler returns at Wells Fargo Championship and talks state of game, rival league

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For a guy who hasn’t played on the PGA Tour since tying for 17th in the Valero Texas Open the first week of April, Rickie Fowler certainly has made a lot of noise in the golf world.

He missed the Masters for the first time since 2010, which ended a string of 41 consecutive major championships played. Word got out that he received a special exemption into the PGA Championship, which ruffled the feathers of a few critics in the game’s circles. He was predicted to be one of the beneficiaries of the PGA Tour’s controversial $40 million Player Impact Program which will reward 10 players not as much for their play inside the gallery ropes but for their influence outside the gallery ropes.

And earlier this week, Fowler was one of a handful of players reported to have received $30-$50 million offers to play in an aspiring golf league that would threaten the PGA Tour and European Tour.

As for Fowler, he just played a lot of golf on his extended break.

“I would say over the course of the month, I don’t think I took a video of any swings or anything like that,” Fowler said. “It was just more focused on go hit shots, go play golf, hit fairways, hit greens, make putts.

“A little bit more to like a little kid growing up.”

One would think his extended struggles have aged him. Fowler has dropped to 116th in the Official World Golf Rankings and he hasn’t won since the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open. He’s missed the cut 11 times in his last 27 starts and hasn’t had a top-10 since tying for 10th in the 2020 American Express.

But the five-time winner on the PGA Tour and two-time winner on the European Tour looked upbeat as he shot a 1-under-par 70 in Thursday’s first round of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.

He stood four shots out of the early lead set by K.H. Lee and Phil Mickelson (who was through 10 holes).

Fowler said his break was a reset as he tries to find his past form with a new swing.

“So coming off of that, felt good about a lot of things out there, felt like I left some shots out there. Unfortunate to give a couple away on the last two coming in,” he said. “Red numbers on Thursday are good. I’ve had some struggles getting off to decent starts over the last year or so. Step in a right direction, but still got some work to do. Happy about it. Go hit some balls and get ready for tomorrow.”

Fowler has kept a positive outlook during his struggles, which is his nature. He remains steadfast to the swing changes he’s made and continues to be confident better days are ahead.

“It’s just a fine line out here as far as what looks decent versus playing proper golf,” he said. “I know it’s close. I think some of it was spending a lot of time working on the swing, which needed to be done, but probably spent a little bit too long of a time focusing and worrying about certain things, and the last few months has just been going out and playing just a bit more golf instead of playing golf swing. It’s just converting some stuff the way I’ve been hitting and playing at home to bring it back on the road.”

As for the proposed league bankrolled by hundreds of millions of Saudi Arabian money that has rankled professional golf – PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told players that if they join the rival circuit they would face immediate suspension and likely expulsion from the PGA Tour – Fowler said he’s just listening right now.

“It’s definitely interesting,” he said. “I think there’s a lot that needs to happen for it to even move forward of any sort, and at the same time I think competition can be a good thing. I do think that the PGA Tour is the premier place to be playing against the best players in the world.

“Could it get better? I’m sure this wouldn’t be coming up if someone didn’t think that there were ways that certain things could be better. So we’ll see. I think all of us will come out in a better place after all this is done.”

He could say the same thing about his golf game.

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