Taylor Fowler couldn't help but feel disappointed after last month's Folino Invitational. Having signed for a final-round 72, giving her a career-best eight-over 221, the CSU Fullerton junior checked the leader board only to see she had fallen one shot shy of the individual title. Quickly her mind raced through all the strokes she wished she could have back over the previous three days, most glaringly a six-foot birdie putt missed on her final hole.
"I was a little bummed," said the 20-year-old afterward, "but it's definitely got me motivated to look for a win out here."
Fowler's emotions speak to her maturation as a golfer. Five years earlier, she had no interest in a game she considered too slow. Never mind her older brother, Rickie, was in the midst of an All-American career at Oklahoma State and headed for future PGA Tour stardom. Taylor's father, Rod, couldn't convince her to follow Rickie's footsteps, let alone play 18 holes with him.
It wasn't until a friend dragged her to the range that Taylor finally gave the game a shot. "I knew how to swing a club, but I wasn't great," Taylor says. "It wasn't how Rickie swings a club."
Although she started to play as a high school junior, the Murrieta, Calif., native has absorbed the game quickly. Her 77.5 average this season is a true improvement from when she shot an 89 in her first spring event as a freshman.
"Any expert would tell you there's no way she'd have done all this if you looked at her [in high school]," says Pearl Sinn-Bonnani, a former U.S. Women's Amateur champ and LPGA Tour pro who coaches at Fullerton. "No one would say she'd be No. 1 on any golf team, let alone a Division I golf team."
Taylor's route to college certainly contrasted Rickie's. While Rickie had endless suitors offering scholarships, Taylor had to solicit schools to give her a look. As a high school senior, she spent hours hitting balls at the Murrieta Valley Golf Range so her mom, Lynn, could videotape her swing to send to coaches, mailing out dozens before connecting with Sinn-Bonnani.
This past winter, Taylor and Rickie played a handful of rounds. Taylor had ended her fall season with a T-52 finish in Hawaii and left campus knowing she would have to fight for a top spot on her squad. So Rickie gave her some tips to take back to school. He calls his influence minimal, but Taylor says his advice, often by text message, can spark her to a successful round.
"She's fiery," Rickie says. "She hates to lose, and she's not afraid of much ... besides heights."
The siblings have always been close and are now finding ways to motivate each other. If Taylor sees Rickie going low in a PGA Tour event she "knows it'll be a great day for the both of us."
Last month when Taylor got into contention at the Folino, Rod texted Rickie updates from the course. Rickie followed along, rooting Taylor on thousands of miles away.
"To know Rickie was as excited about it as I was, it just makes it all that much better," Rod says. "Just to know that her big brother was so proud of her, for what she's doing. She's always been ‘Rickie's sister.' Now she's starting to make her own name for herself."
"She's understanding what I've gone through," Rickie says. "She understands golf now, and it's been fun to watch her get better and enjoy the game."
The Fowlers are officially a golf family.