Hero World Challenge

Rickie Fowler had a strong season, but 'dumb mistakes' are still on his mind

December 01, 2023

Rickie Fowler reacts to his drive on the fourth tee during the second round of the Hero World Challenge.

Tracy Wilcox

NASSAU, Bahamas — His victory in early July at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, as one might suspect, was “the cherry on top” to Rickie Fowler’s comeback season. Now the real work begins.

After struggling for the better part of three seasons, falling out of the top 100 in the World Ranking and having to sit on the sidelines for a stretch of six out of nine majors, Fowler has not so much rebuilt his game as he has rediscovered it. But as he reflects on the past season, in which he returned to the Tour Championship for the first time since 2019, Fowler feels a sense of satisfaction but also slight unease.

Which, he will tell you, is a good thing. None other than Tiger Woods reassured him of that. The two men, neighbors in Jupiter, Fla., and occasional practice partners, were paired together Friday in the second round of the Hero World Challenge, the $4.5 million event Woods hosts at Albany. If they had a side bet going, there was no blood, as each carded a two-under 70.

Fowler, even par through 36 holes, expressed his happiness that Woods is playing again. “Golf is obviously better when he’s around,” he said. Now 23rd in the world, Fowler, likewise, is happy that he earned another invitation to be around Woods at Albany. Fans will tell you golf is better when Rickie is around, too.

“Yeah, we were talking out there today about how we all have struggled at times,” Fowler said. “But struggling is good for you. It’s OK. We both made some super mistakes [during their round Friday]. Golf’s hard. There’s times where it was very easy for him. I don't know if I've ever been in his shoes as easy as golf has been, but I’ve had moments where I’ve played very well. Still, it's always humbling. It doesn't matter how easy of a time or how well you're playing, there's always a reality check.

“So I think once for me, going through struggles, he's been through struggles, injuries or golf related, it makes you appreciate those good times and also know that you can't get complacent and lazy because you can go right back down pretty quickly.”

Fowler, who turns 35 in less than two weeks, rightfully would like to dwell on the past year, one in which he returned to the U.S. Open—and was in contention until the final day—had eight top-10 finishes and missed just two cuts in 26 starts. The overall consistency was pleasing. Fowler’s playoff win at Detroit Golf Club, his sixth on the PGA Tour, was redemptive. His berth on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, a longshot goal at the start of the year, was gravy, even if he only played in two matches and didn’t score a point as the U.S. team got routed in Italy.

But a new season starts in January as the tour returns to a calendar-year slate, and Fowler is intent on doing more than simply maintaining his form.

“It was great to finally build momentum and see what was possible, and also to be in that position and to know how much better it can be. So that's really cool about it,” he said. “I mean, I'm not saying it's going to stay at that level or just get better. There are things I would have liked to have done better—either closed that U.S. Open or won a major or won multiple times. But you can’t get too picky in this game.”

And you can’t work too hard, either. Since returning to work with coach Butch Harmon, Fowler is determined to stay on the current course correction in his career. It helps that another teaching Harmon, Craig, lives in South Florida. Fowler plays often with Craig, who keeps his brother Butch up to speed on what Fowler is working on. They also have instituted more video lessons.

Fowler said he always figured that the Masters or Open Championship were his two best chances at winning a major, but the 2024 season sees the U.S. Open return to Pinehurst No. 2, where he finished runner-up in 2014—a season in which he was top-five in all four majors. The fact that Pinehurst is not what he would call “a traditional U.S. Open venue” is something he believes might be in his favor.

Regardless, Fowler’s goals for the coming year have nothing to do with specific courses but with specific aspects of himself. He owns a golf swing that he trusts. Now he wants to better trust how he uses it.

“I’m at a point where I want to get better mentally and in execution,” Fowler said. “I'm in a spot where I know I can hit all the shots. … Discipline may be the right or wrong word but trying to be as efficient as possible without trying to be perfect, if that makes sense. Dumb mistakes, things that you can avoid. See if we can get rid of as many of those as we can.

“I think all the pieces are there. I just need to improve on the things I’ve not improved on as much and still do the good things I’m doing even better. That’s the challenge. It's a big challenge.”

Indeed. Golf is hard.