CHARLOTTE-- Although you’d never detect it in his demeanor, the weight of being winless was growing heavier by the tournament.
Rickie Fowler was in danger of becoming Anna Kournikova in golf spikes, the golf version of the former Russian tennis star who never won a singles title despite being marketed so brilliantly you would have thought she won more times at Wimbledon than Martina Navratilova.
Fowler, with his globally visible sponsors and distinct look with his flashy clothes, was in danger of forging a dubious reputation for being all style and no substance.
But the 23-year-old former Oklahoma State star dramatically altered the script yesterday with a clutch playoff victory at the Wells Fargo Championship, defeating Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points with a birdie on the 18th hole.
It was his first PGA Tour win in his 67th career tournament and, despite his youth and the fact he has been a pro for only two years, it felt like a long time coming.
“It’s been a wait, but I’m definitely still young and hopefully this opens the door to many more,’’ Fowler said.
“It’s definitely been a work in progress to get this first win, but I think he’s been comfortable with how much he’s been through and what he’s accomplished early on,’’ Fowler’s mother, Lynn, said as she tried to control her emotions at the 18th green. “He was just meant to do this. He knew when he was 2 years old exactly where he was going and what he was going to do.’’
Fowler said he felt like it was “just more when’’ he was going to win as opposed to if he would. So did his caddie, Joe Skovron, who has known Fowler since he was 4.
“Obviously, he wanted to get it and the more he got close the more he wanted it,’’ Skovron said. “He’s 23 years-old and he knows how good he is. He knew it was coming, that it was just when, not if.’’
As Fowler calmly rolled in his four-foot winning putt, a few of his PGA Tour friends, including Aaron Baddeley and Ben Crane, stood behind the 18th green rooting him on.
“He’s a member of the band now,’’ Crane said. “For his sake I was thankful the first win came sooner as opposed to later. We all knew it was in the back of his mind and he wanted to seal one of these off. Now it’s open the gates from here for him.’’
The beauty of Fowler’s win was as much the way he did it — with style and substance — as the fact that he finally broke through.
Asked if, because of the aggressive way in which he’s been marketed he felt even more of a burden to win, Fowler said, “No, because this is who I am. I don’t want to be anyone who I’m not and don’t want to be marketed any way that doesn’t represent me. It’s been a lot of fun. Obviously, I have some great sponsors who helped me show who I am on the course. Now we’ve got the win, so we’re good to go.’’
Asked to describe his emotions after the breakthrough, Fowler said, “Keep going.’’
“It’s a good feeling right now, definitely some relief, satisfaction,’’ he said. “It’s not a bad thing, winning. It’s kind of fun.’’
PGA Tour, Fowler, Anna Kournikova, Wells Fargo Championship