It’s been a long road since Tiger Woods’ bizarre run-in with a fire hydrant, but it looks like we could finally have a clear picture of what the next era of pro golf might look like. A few years ago, parity in the sport was at unpalatable levels, but the past two seasons have given us a few champions that have proven they’re a cut above the rest. Notably, we now have what’s being hailed as golf’s new Big Three: Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day.
All three of these players are under 30, big stage performers and major champions. McIlroy, 26, hails from Northern Ireland and is the most accomplished of the bunch, owning four major titles and the world No. 2 ranking. The USA’s Spieth, 22, is the youngest of the bunch, No. 1 in the world and the reigning Masters and U.S. Open Champion — and the favorite to be named the 2015 Player of the Year. Finally, Day, 27, is an Aussie who won the PGA Championship just a few weeks ago and subsequently rose to No. 3 in the rankings, completing the trifecta. The group’s dominance over the current game is impressive. Many assert that it is a neo-Big Three of golf, a reimagining of the sport’s original Big Three: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
That’s all well and good for McIlroy, Spieth and Day, but in our haste to anoint the newest heroes of the game, aren’t we completely forgetting about last year’s can’t-miss superstar young gun? Where is Rickie Fowler’s place in this newly imagined power structure?
Fowler, twenty-six-years-old and the world No. 5, certainly isn’t far behind the top three in terms of talent. With his Labor Day win at the Deutsche Bank Championship, he might be in the best form too. He was a clubhouse leader for Team USA at last fall’s Ryder Cup, and he is one of golf’s most popular, marketable figures. Certainly, Fowler is a superstar. And yet, he must accomplish a whole lot more if he wants to be grouped in with the aforementioned three. Specifically, he needs to finally get the monkey off his back and win a major.
In a sport where winning is so widely acknowledged to be incredibly difficult, it seems odd that golf would put such a great emphasis on four particular tournaments, but that’s our game. As a result, many great players never win a major, yet more than a handful of mediocre ones have lucked out and gotten the job done. Throw in the fact that a player’s form will come and go over the course of a season, and winning a major is nearly impossible, even for the best of the best.
For a hungry player, the only answer is to prepare meticulously and attempt to design strategies and practice routines that keep the majors in mind. Fowler has done this. Prior to last season, he began working with noted golf guru Butch Harmon, citing a desire to take his game to the next level. That approach paid massive dividends.Although he didn’t notch any wins in 2014, Fowler finished in the top five of all four majors, something that had previously been accomplished by just two men: Nicklaus and Woods.
Predictably, Fowler was a trendy pick to nab a major or two at the beginning of this season. However, while Spieth and Day made history with their wins, Fowler faltered, missing the cut in the U.S. Open and failing to contend in the other three. In all, he tied for 12th at the Masters and for 30th at both the Open Championship and PGA Championship — not awful, but for a player who was hoping to take the next step, definitely not good.
For Fowler, the only answer is to practice harder and play better. McIlroy, Spieth and Day don’t look to be going anywhere, and as youngsters like Patrick Rodgers and Ollie Schniederjans showed us this season, the next generation has some talent too. Conventional logic states that if Fowler keeps knocking at the door at the majors, he’ll get one eventually. Well, where was that logic in the case of Lee Westwood or Sergio Garcia? A player’s window for winning majors can close at any time, without warning; before he knows it, Fowler could become the next Dustin Johnson.
With the Deutsche Bank standing as his third win of the year, Fowler has had a successful season traveling the world and honing his craft. In today’s game, though, there’s no getting complacent. Fowler must win a major soon, or his peers will leave him behind.