Rickie Fowler is a true champion
Rickie Fowler won the 2017 Honda Classic on Sunday, firing rounds of 66-66-65-71 en route to a four shot victory over Morgan Hoffmann and Gary Woodland. It’s his fourth PGA Tour win, and seventh as a professional for the 28-year old. He joins a crazy good list of winners in 2017 that already featured the likes of Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson.
It wasn’t the easiest Sunday for Fowler, who entered the final round with a four shot lead and while he ended with that same lead, some loose shots along the way led to four bogeys and a double. Quality shots and lights out putting also gave Fowler five birdies on the day at the notoriously difficult PGA National, but as Fowler was walking to the 18th tee needing a birdie to set a new course scoring record of -14, NBC’s Johnny Miller decided to take aim at Fowler’s performance.
This is nothing new for Miller, who has been providing commentary for NBC since 1990 and has never been afraid to unleash bombastic opinions about every player in the game, particularly those with higher stature like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Fowler has been the target of Miller in the past as well. Back at the U.S. Open in 2014, Miller referred to Fowler, who had just the 2012 Wells Fargo win as his only triumph, as being “big hat, no cattle”. At other points over his career, Miller has definitely been overly critical of Fowler’s play, particularly when it comes to the discussion of major championship victories of which Fowler currently has zero.
While we can debate the validity of Miller’s previous comments, his remarks at the Honda on Sunday didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
What does that even mean? I get that it’s easy to just blow this off as your typical Johnny bluster and move on to the next topic, but I really just don’t know where he’s coming at with this one. Like I said above, Fowler wasn’t at his best on Sunday, especially with his ball striking, but what we saw was a player go out and win by four shots in tough conditions on a difficult course when it was clear that he didn’t have his best stuff.
Isn’t that what a true champion does?
Tiger has talked about that quite a bit in the past, suggesting that when you’re at this level, the game is pretty easy when you’re feeling it, which is something that Fowler clearly had working for him through the first three rounds. All of the guys who play on the PGA Tour are so good that when they’re playing well, they can beat anyone else on that day. It’s why match play is so volatile and why an “upset” at the WGC-Match Play isn’t really a thing like it is in other sports.
Oftentimes though, it’s about going out and bearing down when you aren’t feeling it, which is also clearly what happened on Sunday. Going out and shooting four sub-66 rounds on a course like this is extremely difficult, and some regression on Sunday was likely from Fowler. The fact that he held it together without his best stuff and while others around him imploded, is exactly what true champions do and this isn’t the first time that he’s done it. He actually did something very similar to this in his last win when it was obvious that he didn’t have his ‘A’ game in Abu Dhabi last year and he had to hold off a hard charging Thomas Pieters. Although since that win didn’t happen in the United States, I’m not sure that Miller knows that Fowler actually won that tournament. He likely would have had another win the next month in Phoenix if it wasn’t for a horribly unlucky bounce on the 71st hole.
If you asked Fowler, I’m sure he’d tell you that at this point in his career that he expected to have more than seven worldwide wins and at least one major championship. Fowler’s not immune from this criticism, but a big part of the reason why he doesn’t have more wins relates to the list of names that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. There’s an argument to be made that the fields are deeper now than they’ve ever been, and what that means is that every player is going to see a reduction in total wins. It’s not a knock on the ability of the player; it’s just the simple fact that when you have so many quality players in a field, each individual is going to get a little less of the pie.
On top of that, Fowler frequently plays in the best tournaments each year, which logically, is going to lead to fewer wins. Jake Nichols tackled this topic brilliantly a few years ago, and it still rings true today. No one is getting to Tiger’s 79 career PGA Tour wins. Phil’s 42 wins is probably untouchable too, as is Vijay’s 34 and it’s going to take a big effort for players to get to match Davis Love III (21), Ernie Els (19) and Jim Furyk (17). A lot of really great players and champions are likely never going to get there.
Over the past two years, Fowler has won the Players Championship, the Scottish Open, the Deutsche Bank Championship, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and the Honda Classic. Those are five big time events with great fields, and Fowler topped the leaderboard in all of them.
If that’s not the mark of a true champion, I don’t know what is.