What were you doing a decade ago? In 2012, the iPhone 5 was released to the public, "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen topped the Billboard 100 and I was struggling to pass AP Physics. Rickie Fowler, on the other hand, was busy breaking through for his first career victory on the PGA Tour.
It is hard to believe we are now 10 years removed from Fowler's dramatic playoff triumph at the Wells Fargo Championship. Just 23 years old at the time, the young phenom who rocked floppy hair and bright orange from head to toe got the better of Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points at Quail Hollow Golf Club. It was thought that the proverbial floodgates had opened for the 2010 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, as the heavy expectations were finally met -- except they weren't. Fowler would struggle throughout the remainder of 2013, collecting only one top-five finish on the PGA Tour.
Things began to fall in place the following year, as Fowler became the first player since Vijay Singh in 2005 to finish inside the top five of each major championship without in fact winning one. A rare distinction not all players would enjoy donning, Fowler took it in stride, choosing to see the brighter side of the situation. Fast forward to the present day, and Fowler is still doing plenty of that, albeit under vastly different circumstances.
Currently 146th in the Official World Golf Rankings, Fowler arrives at TPC Potomac for this year's Wells Fargo Championship in search of something far more important than his first career victory; he is searching for confidence.
"For me, yeah, there have been times when it has been tough as far as confidence goes, but I feel like we have had plenty of good moments in the last six months to know that it's still there," Fowler told Garrett Johnston on the Beyond the Clubhouse Podcast. "Unfortunately, it hasn't been anywhere near as consistent as we want it to be. But I just keep looking at the glass half full and moving forward."
Fowler's struggles have been public, as he has undergone swing changes and employed the help of coach John Tillery. Since the beginning of 2020, he has registered only two top-five finishes on the PGA Tour, both of which came in limited fields. Despite the lack of sustained quality in his game, Fowler remains committed to the process.
"I definitely feel like I'm headed in the right direction. It's been a tough couple of years trying to grind through things and work on some changes and ultimately feel comfortable," he said. "Yeah, I would say I'm still disappointed. I obviously want to see better results and be in a better position, but it's just part of the process and I've gotta keep moving forward."
From the outside looking in, nothing has gone right for Fowler in 2022 -- missing five of eight cuts and failing to find the top 40 on any leaderboard -- but a closer look at his numbers reveals his hard work slowly coming to fruition. The new father has seen an uptick in his iron play since January, gaining strokes on approach in six of eight starts, including his last three. He ranks inside the top 10 in this Wells Fargo Championship field in terms of proximity from 175 to 200 yards, confirming his mid-irons have been cooperative over the last three months.
The scoring clubs are sound, however, his former strength of putting has become his greatest weakness. Golf has often been described as spinning plates. With all the attention on Fowler's full swing, the five-time winner on the PGA Tour has left the putter unattended and subsequently it has crashed to the ground, shattering into a thousand pieces.
Fowler took to TPC Potomac on Tuesday for a practice round alongside Morgan Hoffman, Peter Uihlein and current Oklahoma State Cowboy Eugenio Chacarra. His iron play looked sharp, but his pace on the greens was suspect at best. He has been experimenting with new putter models, new heads, switching between a mallet style and the traditional blade throughout the year searching for answers.
The 33-year-old finds himself in danger of missing out on the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the second straight summer, as he is firmly on the bubble more than halfway through the season. 133rd in the season-long race, maybe, just maybe Fowler will take an inkling of confidence from his prior finishes of T3 and 12th in the shadows of our nation's capital and propel himself into the PGA Tour's long summer of golf.
"I probably have the best understanding of my swing and the tendencies and what causes what now more so than I ever have, but that doesn't mean that it is all of sudden going to work," Fowler said. "It's still a very tough and humbling game, so having the understanding is one thing, but being able to go out there and execute and do that consistently is the next step, but I feel that we are in a good spot and heading in that direction."