KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – I’m starting to feel pretty darn good.
Those were the words of Rickie Fowler on Thursday as he happily took to the stage in front of the media after his first round in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. He hasn’t said anything akin to that for some time now, his struggles inside the gallery ropes nosediving his world ranking and challenging his always sunny disposition.
His official world ranking is down to No. 128 – his lowest since 2009. The winner of nine titles worldwide – including five on the PGA Tour, his most recent coming in the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open – has missed 13 cuts in his last 29 starts on the PGA Tour. His last top-10 came in January 2020. His best finish this year is a tie for 17th in the Valero Texas Open. He didn’t qualify for the Masters, the first major he’s missed since 2010.
And all his struggles adapting to swing changes haven’t happened in the dark.
“It’s tough for anybody regardless, spotlight or not, because you deal with the personal and mental struggle on your own,” Fowler said. “It’s probably a little different, whether it’s answer questions or know that there are people talking about what’s going on or whatever it may be.
“When you’re going through anything, whether it be something personal with any of your lives or my golf game or whatever it may be, it’s hard. It doesn’t matter whether people are watching or not, but it adds a little bit if they are.”
With his form in freefall, Fowler needed a sponsor’s exemption to get into the PGA Championship. He’s made the most of his opportunity so far with a 1-under-par 71 on the windswept Ocean Course to stand two shots out of the early lead among the early starters.
“It’s Thursday. As everyone says, you can’t win it, but you can take yourself out of it on Thursday,” Fowler said. “It’s all about getting off to a good start. So definitely happy about it. I feel like we managed our way around quite well. I missed one shortish putt for par coming in, but other than that, solid day.”
He’s had quite a few solid days of late, especially during prep work ahead of tournaments. He has reached the point where he doesn’t have to concentrate on the technical aspects of his swing changes. Instead, he’s focused on just figuring out a way to get the golf ball in the hole.
“The last few months, it’s been a lot more just go play golf and not play golf swing,” he said. “Put a lot of time in prior to the last few months of working on swing and doing the stuff we kind of needed to work on and accomplish. Now it’s just, go play golf.
“Unfortunately, through that time, the putter has gone pretty cold, if not the coldest it’s ever been for me, and that’s been a club I’ve been able to rely on through my career from junior golf on up.
“With this golf course and the wind and what it kind of demands of you, you can’t try and go out there and be perfect. You’ve just got to go out there and hit golf shots and kind of play with what you have that day.”
As for his putter, his bread and butter over the years, it was working as he needed just 27 putts on the difficult greens. He put in extra hours on the greens this week ahead of the first round.
“Definitely happy with the time we spent to take it into today and get some positives out of it,” he said. “It’s nice to at least make some putts today.”
While at times it’s been tough to handle as the poor results mounted, Fowler has never lost sight of what he gets to do for a living.
“In a way, it’s just putting things into perspective and understanding that I get to do this for a living. And that’s awesome. I’ve had a great run so far out here. I definitely want more,” he said. “We have it pretty darn good out here.”
And one other thing that doesn’t have him feeling the blues.
“We’re on our way back now,” he said.
PGA Championship: Rickie Fowler's best tournament preparation? Playing against Michael Jordan on his home course, The Grove XXIII
John Daly hit the range for a major as only he can — with a McDonald's diet soda
No, those aren't bunkers in the PGA Championship despite all the sand you see
Length, wind at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course present unprecedented challenge at PGA Championship