Saturday at the 2019 Masters
Rickie Fowler “gets it.”
More than most professional athletes, Fowler relishes the opportunity to be a role model, especially to youngsters.
His ability to make the difficult game called golf look easy provides the stage, and he does not duck opportunities to connect. “Pretty cool” and “awesome” are words he uses to describe what he calls one of his main goals.
Equally awesome would be shedding the tag of “best player never to win a major,” and that looked like a possibility for the longest time Saturday at the 83rd Masters.
Francesco Molinari and friends quashed that thought with sterling play on the back nine and Fowler contributed with a bogey at the last, a combination that leaves his 7-under-par 209 too far back entering Sunday’s final 18 holes.
Yet, “I’m happy, I’m pleased,” he said after Saturday’s 4-under 68. “We’ve done a good job just hanging in there. ... It’s been good. I’ve done a good job of just staying in the moment, not getting ahead of myself, not getting down and just continuing to push forward.”
His start Saturday represented more than “just hanging in there.” After an opening bogey, he reeled off three straight birdies and knocked another shot off par at the eighth. A bogey at 10 after missing the green slowed his momentum, but he eagled the 13th and birdied the 15th before the finishing bogey.
“I’m just taking my time and staying in the moment,” Fowler said. “I’m not rushing things and it’s helped that I’ve putted well and been hitting my lines with good speed. Other than on 18 ... I’ve been doing a good job managing myself, the space between the ears and staying in the moment.”
Most golfers just strive to get through Augusta National’s first seven holes in even par. Fowler made ’em look easy with his birdie run that began at the par-5 second.
“It was nice to finally birdie No. 2,” he said after hitting 3-wood off the tee, a 3-wood second and a pitch to one foot. “Kick-in birdie.” The par-4 third proved the same with a drive to the area in front of the green and another chip to a foot.
“One of my better swings all day” with a 5-iron led to the 15-foot birdie putt on the par-3 fourth and, he said, “it kind of got things going.”
He chipped in for eagle on the 13th, using a deft touch and Augusta National knowledge that required chipping into a slight upslope. He called the chip “very makeable, but it’s also one if you not careful and don’t hit it right, it makes you look really bad. You can end up 40 feet away very quickly.”
He finished strong a year ago, shooting 65-67 on the weekend and had a putt on the final green to force a playoff with Patrick Reed. Sunday, he will too far back with too many players to pass to have a realistic chance to win that elusive first major.
That first major, and more than one, will come. He’s been so close with three seconds and a third among nine top-10 finishes in the big four tournaments, and his championships include the 2015 Players.
Combine the Fowler skills with the Fowler attitude, and little wonder the 30-year-old is a lightning rod for youngsters. He embraces every opportunity.
Being a fan favorite and an idol for kids “is awesome,” he said. “From early on having the younger kids follow me around and then that continuing and being able to be a role model for kids to look up to is pretty cool.”
He remembers looking up to athlete in his youth “and being in that position now is awesome. I enjoy it; it’s fun getting to spend time with junior golfers and the younger generation.”
Winning that first major title would be just fine, too. But that will have to wait for another day.