I spent the last three days at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship following every shot that Rickie Fowler made in his matches with Jimmy Walker, Sergio Garcia and today’s match with Jim Furyk. (Full disclosure, I missed the Ian Poulter match because like just about everybody else, I didn’t think he had a chance.) And I participated in his Media Center interview after his victory over Ian Poulter.
I wrote a post based on that interview, “Rickie Fowler: New-Swing Giant Killer,” where he detailed his new coaching relationship with Butch Harmon and the laundry list of changes he has implemented. When I say implemented, I mean there is no relationship between his old swing and the new swing other than Rickie Fowler himself.
Rickie, I write a daily golf mastery blog called Eye On The Tour.Com. As a former Monday qualifier on the Champions Tour, I look at the ups and downs of what you guys go through and comment on it from a compassionate point of view…
…and an empathetic point of view. And one of my readers, when I was going through the laundry list of all the work that you’ve been doing with Butch said, “How in the hell does this guy start in November and here he is in February playing like this?”
Just now, in today’s interview, you said that it came to you naturally. Can you describe how that came to you naturally?
Well, I started working full time on it in November, but some of this work had started in July. I had him look at me on the driving range after I missed the cut at The [British] Open…
I remember you saying that the other day.
And he gave me a few things to work on just moving forward, just to try and get me headed in the right direction. And then — I wasn’t playing bad, I finished 2nd down in Australia to Adam and just felt that I wasn’t making the strides I wanted to, and that’s when I called him and he was willing to take me on. But we put together — I think I’ve spent six days with him where I’ve been face-to-face actually working with him. Other than that, it’s been video going back and forth and little things to work on here and there. So it has been a process.
You know, I think everyone on a daily basis that’s out on Tour is trying to work on something.
Right. But at the speed that you’ve done this…
Yeah, it has been a quick change and it is pretty cool to see the swings back-to-back, where I was a year ago versus right now. I’m definitely happy with the work and it’s nice to see it pay off.
I watched every swing you made for three days and it is amazing how it’s just right on the button. Now, you missed a couple here and there…
Yeah. I had a couple of loose ones…
…but it’s like way different than what it was.
Yeah, it’s a lot more in control. It’s shorter and a lot more efficient. So I’m happy with the work that we’re doing and I’m, in a way, lucky that it comes so naturally and so quick. Swing changes, you never know. It takes guys a long time every once in a while.
Yeah, I would guess that all of the stuff that you did in motorcycles is — you know, that’s just pure, raw athleticism, you know, see and react. And I would guess that this swing change is kind of the same thing.
Yeah, a lot of it, as you said, is just kind of adapting to the surroundings. I mean with riding, you don’t have any time to think.
How much do those motorcycles weigh?
Uh, around 200 pounds.
And so you’re influencing them with your body weight. So you’re really in tune to your body motion and stuff like that…
You have a really good sense of feel…
Yeah, I’ve always been a feel player. The guy that taught me earlier was an old-school guy. He passed away three years ago in his 70s…
I wrote about that, Barry McDonnell?
Um hm. He was a big Hogan guy, very old school. We never used video. It was all about feeling it and learning how to hit a shot by feel. It wasn’t: A. This needs to be here to create this. It was just like, “Hey, let’s hit a cut. Make it happen.”
So I’ve always been very feel oriented. And I definitely think that between how I grew up, always being athletic, and being brought up on feel, it definitely helped me to kind of make a change very quickly and easily.
What I notice when I do swing changes, sometimes it gets in my short game and I stop playing with that feel. Do you think that might be what’s going on with your short game now? [He said in his post-round interview, “Unfortunately, I haven’t had the short game and putting that I’m used to. So there’s the missed cuts.” I misunderstood that he was talking about prior to this week.]
Uh, I’m actually — short game right now is very good. I’ve been pitching and putting the ball pretty good.
It looked pretty good to me! (Laughing)…
Yeah, yeah. No, uh…
…a couple of those lob shots that stopped in two feet…
Yeah, so it’s been good this week. It’s nice to kind of have everything come back together again.
It’s kind of lining up now?
Yeah, I’ve always — I’m getting to a point where I’m not having to think about the swing as much as before. And like you said, some of that can creep into putting or chipping. Two weeks ago, I spent a few hours with Paul down at Scotty’s [putter guru, Scotty Cameron]. I’ve always worked down there, since I was fifteen, hitting putts on camera.
I was a bit off, so I was able to get some good insight from Paul. Kind of point me in the right direction. So that definitely helped. And then just go out and try to hit some chips and pitches, just get the feel back.
So, it looked like to me, the only thing that you’re doing that’s mechanical now is in your pre-shot routine. Right before, you take your swing, you make a practice swing and you’re taking it back and you’re hips are moving just a little laterally and then on your actual swing, you’re just right on the button, it’s all turn.
Yeah, so, part of that is me getting into the right side. Sometimes I wouldn’t get into the right side and I would lose spine angle…
Just trying to get the feel of getting over there.
…and then I would get steep. So, for me, it feels like I almost have to move off the ball. That way I’m able to stay shallow through the ball.
But you don’t do that on the actual swing…
No, I mean, it feels like I’m trying to do it. It’s not much. If I don’t think about that, then my tendency is for the spine to get the wrong way [with the top tilted to the target] and then I can’t deliver the club to the ball…
That’s how my back ended up getting messed up, so I know exactly…
Yeah, I would get this way [exaggerates reverse pivot with the spine raising up], and this would have to jump [points to his right hip doing a herky, jerky motion] and the lower back gets torqued.
Yup, I did that same thing. Listen, thanks very much. I appreciate it.
Rickie Fowler is a good guy who gave me quality time when all he probably wanted to do was duck out of the limelight and into a shower. But he never gave me the sense that he was in a hurry or that he had anything other than respect and his full attention for my questions. As I said, good guy.
But more to the point of the post, he confirmed my theory going in that the reason that he has taken to these new swing changes so quickly is that he is a very high-level athlete of the first order.
Just imagine him back in his motorcycle years, launched off a dirt jump on the back of that 200 pound bike, hanging there in the air in perfect balance, flying, and then smoothly greasing that rear tire at just the right place and just the right angle on the downslope — not too short and not too long — and probably getting on the gas before he even hits.
Remember this Puma commercial? It’s a tamer version of this forgoing fantasy, but because of that we get to see him demonstrate his fine motor skills, no play on words intended.