The frequently flamboyant Rickie Fowler has been dealing with a dull stretch of poor play for some time now.
The fan favorite has flashed some brilliance on occasion but this year has mostly been one to put in the rearview as he’s struggled with swing changes while facing the best players in the world. He’s fallen to No. 32 in the world – his lowest ranking since 2013 – missed four of his last seven cuts and had just one top-10 this year. The most recent of his five PGA Tour titles, which includes the 2015 Players Championship, came in the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
But in Thursday’s first round of the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee, Fowler lit up the first page of the leaderboard.
Wearing florescent yellow and hot pink golf shoes and a matching cap you could see from outer space, he put seven red numbers on his scorecard and signed for a 6-under-par 64. His only blemish was a last-hole bogey.
Ricky Fowler reacts during first round of the WGC FedEx-St. Jude Invitational on Thursday, July 30, 2020, at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee.
His lowest round since January placed him behind only front-runner and defending champion Brooks Koepka, who birdied his first four holes and ended with a 62.
Brendon Todd was with Fowler at 64. At 65 was Sung Kang. Matt Kuchar, Max Homa, Justin Thomas and Chez Reavie were at 66, and in a group at 67 were Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Bryson DeChambeau.
Newly minted No. 1 Jon Rahm shot 70.
“I was happy with everything we did today,” Fowler said.
He hasn’t been able to say that much since he began working on swing changes with his coach, John Tillery. The Cliff Notes version of what they are working on? They want Fowler to use his body more to put the club in the proper positions instead of Fowler consciously trying to put the club in the right positions. Let the body make the swing better, in other words.
But after missing the cut at the Memorial two weeks ago, Fowler retreated to his Florida home, took three days off and then hooked up with Tillery to alter things a bit. Their concentration moved to playing the game instead of thinking swing.
“Feel like I did a really good job last week,” Fowler said. “We really focused a little bit more on stuff that I could think of or keep things simple as far as thoughts go, what I can do on the golf course thoughts-wise versus working on the swing on the range and how to separate that.”
The winless stretch hasn’t been easy to go through for the glass-is-half-full Fowler but he remains committed to Tillery and the changes they continue to work on. And in the first round at TPC Southwind, he reunited with his good pal – his putter – and the good vibes led to just 25 putts.
“I definitely have,” been frustrated, Fowler said. “I hate missing cuts. I would probably have like one day that was good and one little off day that kind of kept me from making cuts or held me back. I think some of it, me being a little hard on myself for trying to be too perfect and working on stuff versus leave that on the range and just go play.
“It also hasn’t helped that my putter hasn’t been my best friend and that’s I feel like one of the better parts of my game. I feel like when I get on the greens, I feel like I’m one of the best putters in the world. Today was an accumulation of the work last week and just freeing myself up and simplifying thoughts and just playing golf versus working on the range.
“I was able to get a lot of good work with the putter last week and get myself back into some better positions to free up the putter. I was pulling a lot of putts, I was kind of tense with it, so it’s nice to see things kind of pay off.”