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Fortinet Championship

Rickie Fowler hopes the first round of the first tournament of the new PGA Tour season is a sign of things to come

September 15, 2022
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Mike Mulholland

Granted, it’s only the first round of the 2022-23 PGA Tour season. But wholesale changes Rickie Fowler has made to the team around him are showing promising early signs after climbing up the leaderboard of the Fortinet Championship in Napa, Calif.

Fowler, who parted ways with long-time caddie Joe Skovron and returned to swing coach Butch Harmon recently, posted a 67 to sit at five under par on Thursday in California’s wine country. The 33-year-old is just three shot behind clubhouse leader Justin Lower, and one back of South Korea's Byeong Hun An and Si Woo Ki, who both posted 66s on a fog-interrupted first round of the new season.

Fowler is in the midst of a slump that has seen him fall to No. 176 in the World Ranking. He hasn’t won since the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open, his fifth victory on the PGA Tour, while he also struggled to keep his card last season. Fowler was the last man into the playoffs opener, the FedEx St Jude Championship.

So Fowler made some tough calls to lift himself out of his funk. He split with Skovron in August and arrived in Napa this week with friend and veteran looper, Ricky Romano, on the bag. Fowler’s reunion with Harmon followed a three-year stint with John Tillery. Harmon’s time with Fowler was highlighted by a victory at the 2015 Players Championship and a climb to World No. 4.

With Harmon—the guru who counts World No. 1s Greg Norman, Tiger Woods and Adam Scott among his former students—Fowler has been working on a steeper left-arm plane. The changes certainly helped on Thursday as Fowler carded five birdies and no blemishes.

It has only been phone calls and video exchanges so far, but Fowler will hook up with Harmon at his Las Vegas base next month.

“It's been great,” Fowler said after his round. “I know he's excited just with seeing some of the stuff I've been able to do on the range in practice. It's going to take some time to fully translate what I exaggerate on the range to the golf course, but at least it’s in a fairly good spot. The way I hit some shots and drove the ball today, it's just good feedback to just build more confidence.”

Fowler has also not played this event since 2010—five years before it moved to Napa and a year after Fowler lost in a playoff to Troy Matteson at Grayhawk. The reason he’s here this week is because his schedule was free, at a time of year when Fowler would typically be coming off a FexEx Cup playoffs run and gearing up for either a Presidents Cup or a Ryder Cup. Fowler will not line up for Davis Love III’s Team USA at next week’s Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow.

“Well, not going through the playoffs and not being on a Presidents Cup team, that's been really the only reason why I haven't been here to Napa yet,” he said. “We love being able to spend time in Napa. I've always heard good things about this event, so not to [celebrate] bad play or anything but I was excited when it was able to work out, [although] not exactly for the best reasons.”

Jupiter-based Fowler said earlier this week his goals for this season—the last wraparound season on the PGA Tour—were to get in contention more often, and build from there. Although he’d hardly count contending after one round as mission accomplished, it’s a step in the right direction for one of the tour’s most popular stars.