Underrating the possibility of Rickie Fowler

As most of you will certainly know by now, Rickie Fowler won what was roundly described as the best Players Championship ever in a three-way playoff with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner. He did it once the three-hole cumulative playoff on 16, 17 and 18 was indeterminant and he and Kisner returned to the 17th hole for sudden death

He followed Kisner’s decent tee shot with one whose results were far bolder than its intent. He said later that he was aiming left of the pin which was just 3 yards from the right edge. The ball stopped 4 feet right of the pin, 5 from the water. Kisner just missed with a good putt and Fowler calmly sunk his to win.

This was just the crescendo. He claimed later that his victory began with a punch-out recovery shot from a fairway bunker on 12. He got the ball on the green and made par. From there, he went: birdie, par, birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie; 6-under in six holes to shoot 5-under 67. And that included two bogeys.  

There’s more to his heroics such as the 239-yard approach shot on the par-5 16th for a kick-in eagle and two tee shots he ended up hitting on the dreaded 18th, one of them the longest of anyone all week long. It was all so, well, heroic. Everyone breathlessly shook their heads in appreciation at what they had just seen. “One for the ages,” they agreed.

Which is to say, that Rickie Fowler was severely underrated by the PGA Tour players foolish enough to have answered the Sports Illustrated survey that asked the question, “Who is the most overrated player in golf?” Rickie Fowler tied for first place with Ian Poulter with 24% of the vote apiece.

Perhaps “foolish” isn’t the right word here; unkind would have been better. This was a fellow competitor these men were talking about. Reportedly one of the kindest, nicest players on Tour. At last year’s Accenture Match Play Championship, he gave me some time for, “Rickie Fowler: Exclusive Golf Mastery Process Interview.” Quoting one of my closing paragraphs:

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.

There was the second-hand story told on air about a little kid at this week’s tournament. Rickie blew by the autograph pit on his way to scoring and the young boy was crushed that he didn’t get his autograph. A man told him not to worry, wait a couple of minutes and he’ll be back. And sure enough, Rickie came back out and signed not only the little kid’s autograph, he signed everybody’s autograph.

First of all, shame on Sports Illustrated’s anonymous “Golf.com Staff” for even asking a question like that of Fowler’s fellow competitors, setting up a certain attack on another human being, however much “in good fun” it was intended. It’s good fun perhaps when you’re not the intended target; not so much when you are.

I wrote about these “attack thoughts” last January in, “Running Other People Down.” Here’s how I explained them:

We all know people who speak about others in accusatory, evaluative and dismissive ways. They are everywhere in our daily interactions. There is a spiritual tenet that this approach to the world stems from “attack thoughts,” the preemptive attempt of the ego to rebut what others “must” be thinking about them.

And that comes from not realizing that there is a spiritual essence underlying all of these egos that is good and pure and capable of amazing feats. In its fear, the ego is unable to look beyond itself.

In practical terms, what this means is that one of the reasons that players are unable to get beyond their nervousness or fear or skittishness is that their egos are afraid that others are saying the same things about them, even if only on a subliminal level. They may have no idea what these feelings stem from.

For his part, Rickie was very classy about this assault, pointing out that his antagonists had perhaps forgotten that he had four top-5s in last year’s majors. That’s all I heard him say about it. Actually, it was better than that: T5, T2, T2, T3.

Hopefully, the next time writers are looking for ways to sell magazines, they will choose to write about inspirational or redeeming stories, stories that inspire us and spur us on. Stories that celebrate the possibility of human beings, we humans all of us.

And perhaps colleagues of Rickie’s will think twice about their cruelty in offering comments that they wouldn’t want offered up about themselves. And maybe even take a good hard look at why they would ever consider doing such a thing in the first place. Golf has always prided itself on being a gentlemen’s game.

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