Rickie Fowler: Mastery snippets from a great year

Rickie Fowler was sitting in the media center at The Barclays, the first of the four, season-ending, Playoff tournaments. He got to the Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey, because he had a great year. He didn’t win a tournament, but he had a win of another sort: he is one of only three players since 1934 to finish in the top 5 of all four majors (Tiger Woods, 2000, 2005; Jack Nicklaus, 1971, 1973):

“It’s been a great summer for me.  The preparation for the majors and the way I’ve played in the majors has been something to look back on and I’m definitely proud of it.”

“Would have been nice to get a win, but to be one of three guys to ever finish top five in all four majors is something I’ll be able to look back on for the rest of my life.”

“And obviously building confidence from those coming into the Playoffs. I really haven’t had a great run in the Playoffs before, so I’m looking forward to getting off to a good start here and seeing if I can keep moving up on the FedExCup points list and have some fun at East Lake golf course”

He talked about the progression from the Masters to the PGA Championship that took him from being a little uncomfortable to so disappointed at the PGA it “stung.” Others who have won majors say that you have to come close before you can win one: 

“No, I can definitely see exactly what they are talking about.  Sunday at Augusta, I probably wasn’t the most comfortable as far as a Sunday setting and having a chance to win.”

“It was great to be there and be in contention but to be able to relate how I felt Sunday there versus Sunday at the PGA, it was a completely different experience.  Sunday at the PGA, I actually felt like I was in a position where I could win the golf tournament, knew I had the game to go do it.  Unfortunately I just wasn’t able to hit the shots as close as I wanted to and execute the way I wanted to.”

“But from all four, from the Masters to the U.S. Open to the British and then to the PGA, each time I felt more and more comfortable in the situation, and other than ended up finishing third, I would have been possibly tied for second with Phil, it would have been a better finish each time.  I think it was kind of a showing of how I felt under the gun in the situation and being in contention at a major.  I felt great on Sunday there.”

And he talked about how being in contention gives you a little seasoning to the point where nothing surprises you:

“Well, any time you can put yourself in a situation, whether it’s maybe a match money game at home to get some of the juices flowing to a week leading up to a tournament, playing, and checking some things under pressure and being at an actual golf tournament; and then actually being in contention on a consistent basis, makes it — nothing surprises you.  You feel comfortable in the situation.”

“So I felt like I was able to do that with the majors and put myself in similar positions, and come the PGA, nothing shocked me.  I felt right at home and was ready to go out and play golf”

It wasn’t just magical that he was able to play at this level, no serendipity involved. It was a lot of hard work and commitment to get better that laid the foundation for it:

“Well, if you look back at the work I’ve put in, on and off the golf course, as far as practice and prep leading up, working with Butch and cleaning some things up in the swing. And a lot of my work done the weeks leading up to the Majors, especially the week prior, playing in tournaments, kind of going through a bit of a checklist to make sure my game is where I want it.”

“That way when I show up the week of a major, my game is basically in check and I can go figure out the golf course and go through more of my mental approach.”

So here he talks about the mental side of his preparation. This is relative and scalable. He talks about believing in his work with Butch Harmon on his Tour pro swing, a 15 handicap has to position himself to be committed to hitting the best shot his 15 allows him to hit with all the upside possible from there (every dog has his day). He can’t be fearful that he’s going to play like a 20, he has to be intending to play like a 10…and accept whatever the result might be. And then re-commit to playing like a 10 on the next shot knowing that he isn’t just yet. It’s not delusional, it’s positional.

“So I think I’ve been a lot more prepared to go tee it up Thursday than I ever have, and actually during the tournaments, my mental process before each shot has been a lot better and I’ve been able to kind of step into every shot, a few here and there where I don’t fully commit.  But just I think a lot of the mental process and then actually believing in the swing stuff that Butch and I have been working on”

And here he talks about that “getting better” process and how to manage it. It came up in the context of running down Rory McIlroy who seems to have the world on a string right now:

“But as far as changes and everything, I mean, nothing that needs to be forced.  I think everyone is trying to work on things here, every day, every week, to try and get better.  I’m not going to change what I’ve done the past six months or look back and say I didn’t do enough”

So taking this to the margins, is playing like a 10 comparable to playing with reckless fearlessness?

“Well, fearless — can’t play reckless, but fearless, yes, you can’t be afraid.  You have to be ready to be in the moment and go hit the golf shot that you need to hit.  Whether that’s playing safe to the right part of the green and just hitting an aggressive shot there or actually going after some pins and making many birdies; depends on the situation.”

“But yeah, you have to be fearless.  You have to believe in yourself, have that confidence and not be afraid of a possible bad swing or making mistakes.  Those are going to happen.  But when you start worrying about those and showing fear, you’re going to go downhill.”

“You play without fear and accept that some challenges and some mistakes are going to happen and you’re going to be a lot better off [in the long run].”

A good thought to end on.

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