What it's like to play a round of golf with Rickie Fowler
I played the Crowne Plaza pro-am with Rickie Fowler and it was pretty great.
I was definitely feeling nervous as I stepped on the No. 1 tee box at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, for the pro-am competition the Wednesday before the Crowne Plaza Invitational started.
"Oh [expletive] there are tens of people watching me do a thing I'm sometimes good at but usually bad at and if I screw up they'll likely giggle to each other about how badly I screwed up."
Oh, and Rickie Fowler is 10 feet away from me and just hit his tee shot a million yards and I think he made an incision in the fairway with it. I think the fairway is bleeding from his tee shot.
Here was my swingthought for the first hole: "Crap, do I really have to swing and hit this ball or can I just pick it up and throw it and go from there?"
Boom -- 275, right down the middle.
Rory McIlroy would have been jealous of the strut with which I walked to that tee shot.
Of course Fowler was still 35 yards out in front of me and teed off 25 yards behind me but hey I was just happy I didn't put somebody in the hospital or sever somebody's neck with a flying club head.
I turned to my college buddy who was caddying for me and he gave me a look that said, "there were a lot of places I thought that tee shot was going and down the middle of the fairway was not one of them."
It was an odd thing to be on the flip side of this thing that I cover. It gave me a greater appreciation for the way most golfers handle themselves and perform their craft.
How could it not?
Rickie Fowler is really, really good at golf. You already know this because you watched him nearly win the Match Play Championship earlier this year. Then you watched him top 10 at the Houston Open and top five at Augusta.
He's played in the Walker Cup and the Ryder Cup. He's won on tour and finished in the top 10 at three of the four majors. He's won more than $10 million on the course.
He's 25 years old.
What stuck out to me when I played with him was not that he followed up his behemoth drive on the first hole with a slick iron shot and ensuing eagle putt from 30 feet, though.
It wasn't his preternatural ability to escape the beaches of Ft. Worth, Tex. or the pendulum-like rhythm he had going all day.
Nope, it was how much he carried himself like a professional.
That sounds like a very simple thing but it's really not. It's an art and Fowler is extremely good at it. He understands what's at stake every time he tees it up in public.
I don't mean a professional in the sense that he is involved in the kid-like transaction of being paid gobs of money to put a ball in a cup. I mean he was a one-man corporation out there -- working crowds, signing deals (OK, autographs) and moving product.
I asked Fowler (who, along with the tournament, is sponsored by Crowne Plaza) on the 12th hole if he rents a house at every tournament he goes to. He cocked his head a little bit, gave me a half smile, and said "no, I stay at a Crowne Plaza, of course."
"Being out on tour, probably the guy who I’ve watched the most, learned the most from, and spent a lot of time around is Phil (Mickelson)," Fowler told me.
Probably a good choice.
"We’ve had a lot of fun together -- we play practice rounds together, have games and dinners -- just watching him with fans and how he does media and how he handles himself inside the ropes," he said. "Not that I’ve asked him a bunch of questions but it’s been more just observing how he is and trying to figure out why he’s so well-liked."
Whatever it is, Fowler has figured it out. If there was a "well-liked" title belt on tour he would be vying Mickelson and maybe a few others for it.
But here's the irony: for as colorful as Fowler's closet and game is, he's more buttoned up than his buddy Bubba Watson's collared shirts. That's a good thing, of course.
He says a lot but doesn't tell you very much. The closest I got to making him laugh was on the final hole.
I had a par putt from about 12 feet (with my handicap it would have been a birdie for our team). Fowler read it a cup outside the left edge.
I nailed the line and it lipped out. I walked over to him and said "that one's on you, dude." He grinned and said "yeah, I gave you a bad read."
It was tough for me not to grin my way through the entire day. Duck hooks and pushed putts -- I was giggling with my caddie through all of it. Two years ago I was working an office job and now...this?
I asked Fowler if it ever gets old.
"Playing on the PGA Tour and playing professional golf, I think it’s what everyone has dreamed of doing -- all the guys who are out here," said Fowler.
"I’m just happy to be able to call this a job, if you want to call it a job."
The job, I realized, is everything but the golf. The golf is the easy part. The job is the showing up at this time for the pro-am and this time for the media availability and this time for the photo shoot.
And signing all those autographs.
I get mad when I have to sign my name on a receipt at the gas station. Fowler signed probably 50 autographs just during our round.
"It’s definitely golf first out here," he said. "You can’t always sit there and sign because you do get a lot of requests but I try to do the best that I can to sign as much as possible at the right times."
He does a good job of it and his galleries respond accordingly.
Orange flat bills and Puma-laden stripes littered the course just outside the ropes. They were there for him, I pretended it was for me. I think it helped me play better. I tipped my cap at one point. My caddie rolled his eyes.
We finished up -- Fowler shook hands (mine) and I think he literally kissed a baby (also mine) and I was left thoroughly impressed by which this crazily-dressed fellow from California handled all the madness.
It was a great day -- maybe the best I've ever had "on the job."
Oh, and we won.
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