After claiming his third PGA Tour victory at last year’s Deutsche Bank Championship, Rickie Fowler lightheartedly called himself a “sneaky fourth” to the widely proclaimed Big Three of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy. But just a few months later, Fowler won again at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship with Spieth and McIlroy in the field. Not so sneaky, especially when you throw in his stirring charge to victory at the 2015 Players Championship.
Now we’re left to wonder what’s next for the ever-popular California native. Although he doesn’t know this year’s major venues too well (aside from Augusta National), he’s nonetheless excited for the chance to continue to carve out his spot among golf’s best.
Fowler tells Athlon that he’s playing as well as ever — and he’s also motivated like never before.
Does the presence of Jordan, Jason and Rory push you to get better, or is your focus solely on your own game and what you’re able to do?
Well, it’s definitely great motivation having guys like that playing well. Those three guys being the ones in front of me in the World Rankings, and when we play together I feel like it kind of pushes each of us to elevate our games to the next level. I obviously have my own goals, but when those guys are playing well, it definitely, I think, kind of goes in full circle. We’re all motivating each other to become better players.
You’ve mentioned your overall goal of getting in contention and giving yourself chances to win. How key is that for you this year?
Well, I know I can’t go out and have a perfect year by any means and have a great week every week. But that’s what the main kind of focus is whenever I’m playing. It’s showing up and making sure I have the best that I can have that week and getting the most out of it.
I may not have played my best golf (at Abu Dhabi), but I was able to manage my game well, stay very patient, and get the most out of it. I feel like that’s something I’ve gotten better at over the past few years, especially working with Butch (Harmon) as well on the swing. I’ve been able to get a lot more out of tournament rounds, and that’s what has really helped me win. I got the most I probably could have gotten out of the round on Saturday at The Players last year, and that’s what gave me the chance to do what I did on Sunday. Then (at Abu Dhabi in Round 1) I wasn’t playing all that great and managed to get around 2-under. That kept me in the golf tournament. So, if I can continue to do that, I’m going to be in the position to be in contention and ultimately have chances to win more golf tournaments.
You’ve spoken a lot recently about fine-tuning your game. In what ways are you doing that?
I’m always looking at the statistics and where I can get better and tighten things up. One of the main focuses right now is 150 yards and in. That range is where we’ve found maybe the biggest way to improve right now. Getting the ball closer to the hole from that range. Those are your scoring clubs, and you’re going up against the best players in the world, guys that you’ve got to be on top of your wedge game, 9-iron and down. You’re looking to get the ball in there close and have a good look at birdie. So the more that you can give yourself good quality looks and stay away from making mistakes from that yardage, the better, so we’ll see if we can get some closer and take advantage of that. And then overall, I’m looking at continuing to get better everywhere else.
You got ranked in the world’s top 5 after winning Abu Dhabi. What do you do to sustain that level of golf and even improve your position?
Well I’m going to have to get some top-10 finishes and some wins to move up, because the three guys that are ahead of me are not going to move backwards, I know that.
Golf’s in a great spot right now, we’re having a good time.
After your new high-tops, will we see any more fashion statements from you in the coming months?
Nothing right now. We’ll see. I’ll try and get something in the works maybe. There might be some fun stuff at The Players. I’ll get some stuff lined up for Augusta, that’s always a good one.
I like trying to keep having some fun with it and be different with my apparel.
You speak a lot about motivation now, is it fair to say you’re as motivated as you’ve ever been?
Oh yeah, definitely. Golf’s in a really good spot right now. A lot of guys are playing well. It’s fun to be considered one of the top players right now. It’s a lot of fun to have players and young guys playing well, and we can kind of feed off each other.
In your opinion, are you playing as well as you ever have in your career?
Yeah, I’ve definitely been playing really well through the middle and end of last year to the start of this year. So it’s just good golf.
When it comes to the majors, how key are they to constituting a great year for you? Is there any one major thatfavors your game more than the others?
Winning a major would make a great year, and to continue the way I’ve been playing. I mean, I feel like to be in the same conversation with (Jordan, Jason and Rory) I need to get a major and get that on the résumé to at least have some sort of credentials to be there. I don’t think there’s any major that suits me better. I feel like I can play all of them. I definitely enjoy playing links golf just because of the shots I can hit over there. Links golf is probably my favorite just because of the amount of creativity you can use and different shots available. I love playing Augusta, and we have some great venues this year for the other majors.
“I feel like to be in the same conversation with (Jordan, Jason and Rory) I need to get a major and get that on the résumé to at least have some sort of credentials to be there.”
My practice round at Baltusrol (site of the 2016 PGA Championship) last year with Jordan was the one time I’d been there.
What do you make of the U.S. Open at Oakmont this year? Any familiarity with the course?
No, I haven’t even been there. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve heard a lot of good things. I’ve heard it’s a great U.S. Open venue and that it’s going to be tough.
What has your training been like with your trainer Troy Van Biezen? Are there any differences from years past?
I’m definitely trying to ramp it up a bit more moving forward right now. It’s just making sure the body is moving properly and that I’m strong in the correct places, then also continuing to get stronger as I continue on the golf course. The biggest thing for me is injury prevention, making sure that I’m healthy, and making sure I have a long career out here, so that’s the goal with training.
I’m working on everything. Your core can be as strong as you want, but if there’s nothing else to support it, then it doesn’t matter, so it’s everything all in one.
Golf returns to the Olympics later this year. What are your thoughts on that opportunity?
It would be awesome, but it’s a little ways out. There’s a lot of golf before that. But no, it would be an honor to be a part of it, and the Olympics are something that I’ll always shoot for.
— Garrett Johnston, @JohnstonGarrett
This interview appears in the 2016 edition of Athlon Sports' Golf Annual. You can purchase it here.