Of all the PGA Tour pro stars who haven’t pledged allegiance to Jay Monahan, the one who intrigues me most has gone from top 5 in the world to ranking No. 167 currently, plummeted from first in Strokes Gained: Putting in 2016 to 179th this season, and flamed out of the FedEx Cup Playoffs with a quintuple-bogey 9 on his final hole on Saturday at the FedEx St. Jude Championship.
That would be the one, the only Rickie Fowler, who has been consistent in his position whenever asked about LIV Golf at the PGA Championship in May, the Memorial in June or after missing the cut at the Rocket Mortgage Classic a few weeks ago.
“I haven’t necessarily made a decision one way or the other,” Fowler said publicly for the first time at the PGA during a pre-tournament press conference. “I’ve mentioned in the past, do I currently think that the PGA Tour is the best place to play? I do. Do I think it can be better? Yes.”
“I would be in the same spot,” he said in Detroit. “Nothing has changed.”
Fowler confirmed that he’s been presented a mind-boggling number to jump ship to LIV without saying how crazy his offer was. Money drives many decisions in our lives and the likes of Brooks Koepka and Henrik Stenson have flipped like Simone Biles doing a Yurchenko double pike.
— Cameron Morfit (@CMorfitPGATOUR) August 13, 2022
Fowler’s been rumored to be gone to LIV for months. As Fowler’s game has slumped – winless since the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open and just a total of two top-10 finishes to his credit in the last two seasons – some have suggested that the no-cut LIV lifestyle might appeal to him but I sense Fowler still wants to grind and at age 33 he believes he can add to his five Tour titles. He still wants to represent U.S. in team events again, and eventually be a team captain. Fowler doesn’t seem like the type to take the easy way out. He’s earned $41 million in official earnings and that doesn’t begin to include his many endorsements. Fowler is exempt this coming season, but even if he were to struggle to keep his card he would get plenty of starts as a past champion and be a slam dunk to receive a maximum of seven sponsor invites. He’s going to be a perennial top-10 finisher in the Tour’s PIP standings and be well compensated for being a fan favorite.
When I pressed him about his future plans, he said of the Tour, “This is where I plan to be. I would say there is stuff in the works now as far as the things the Tour is trying to do to evolve with kind of modernizing and I feel like they are making the right steps now.”
Sounds as if he’s firmly in the Tour’s camp, but then in the next breath he added, “The Tour has been the best place to play, currently is and I’d like to see it continue to be. But you can’t expect to stay the same and be the best all the time, if that makes sense.”
This is where some of Fowler’s frustration stems from, especially as renegade leagues have emerged over the last few years.
“I’ve told the Tour and Jay when I’ve met with them that I don’t think they have handled it very well at all. A lot of the stuff that has happened in the last 6 months to a year and is starting to happen, to me they are reacting to it versus when the talks of Premier Golf League and LIV came about is when they should have been proactive and gotten in front of it,” Fowler said.
He’s encouraged by what he’s called the Tour’s “openness to change and evolution,” noting the potential for three big-money events in the fall under a different (for-profit) structure.
I asked Fowler what appealed to him about LIV Golf.
“It may bring potentially new audiences in just because it’s different. At the same time, it’s not what golf has always been,” he said. “If there was a perfect world there would be a way to coexist because to me they are very different things.”
Fowler knows there is no perfect world, and said, “whether you like it or not, they’re growing, they’re moving forward.” The Tour can ill afford to lose one of its most popular players. Rickie is his own brand. But how concerned is Fowler about the public response if he were to announce his Tour days are done? “That’s a big thing that I’ve had to think about. I’ve had a great following, I’ve had a great relationship with the media, TV and the Tour and that’s something I don’t want to ruin,” he said.
He knows there will be people who will judge him based on the decision to join LIV and be associated with a Saudi-backed league.
“There’s been a lot of negative press,” he said. “It’s an interesting time.”
A time during which Fowler confirmed that a handful of players met in Ireland during the J.P. McManus Pro-Am event to discuss what they could do to fight off the endless pockets of LIV Golf, whose business model seems to be to throw unthinkable amounts of money at players until they hit their number.
Fowler declined to go into detail on the specifics of the player meeting but said, “There’s a lot of guys who want to see this Tour succeed.”
He still counts himself among them. Fowler truly loves what he does and my hunch is he stays put on the Tour, turning down the type of money he never dreamed of making and would never be able to spend in ten lifetimes. Does he think the Tour could be better? Yes. But he’s willing to bet that better late than never, the Tour got the wake-up call it needed.
“I think things are in a good place,” he said of the Tour, “and headed the right way.”