The last few years have been difficult for Rickie Fowler. There was a time when he was who you tuned in to watch on Sundays. Once ranked 25th in the world, Fowler hasn’t seen a win at a tournament in quite a long time. That being said, he has been working to climb his way back with adjustments and training. In taking it one day at a time, Fowler is starting to see his efforts paying off.
After a missed cut and a 44th place finish so far this season, Rickie has shown some improvements in the following two events. It was only a couple of weeks ago that he pulled off an impressive finish that we haven’t seen in years. Unfortunately, Fowler was faced with a big setback a when he tumbled all the way to tie again for 44th. This was his chance to stand out in the smaller competitive field.
Fowler certainly had plenty of time for reflection over recent months. He failed to qualify for either the Masters or the U.S. Open, firsts for him in 10 years. He didn’t make the FedEx Cup playoffs, meaning he was outside of the top 125 and not yet qualified for the 2022 Players Championship — a tournament he won with a stunning flourish in 2015.
The two months off didn’t go to waste. Fowler went back to taking the dismal performance as a teaching moment. After failing to qualify after Friday rounds at the Shriners Children’s Open. But with a weekend to reflect, he used the opportunity to visit his old coach, Butch Harmon, to make sure what he was working on got a stamp of approval.
With Harmon’s blessing and the ensuing confidence, Fowler took the 54-hole lead at the CJ Cup and ended up finishing tied for third behind winner Rory McIlroy. Sure, it would have been nice to take home the win, but right now, he will take a Top-3 finish. Given that Fowler’s last victory came at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in 2019, a strong showing was welcome.
“[It] was a very good week for me, especially after the last couple years,” Fowler said at the Zozo Championship in Japan. “I played very well tee to green. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a very good feel on the greens with speed, so that is where I struggled a little bit, but very happy with the ballstriking.
“That’s something we’ve been putting a lot of work in on the last couple years, especially the last couple of months — long time coming.”
Fowler’s long game was an issue for much of last season, when he ranked 89th in strokes gained tee to green on the PGA Tour. He ranked first at the CJ Cup, although his once extremely reliable putting stroke has cost him at times.
He hoped to take that momentum to Japan, but it didn’t materialize, which highlights the difficulty Fowler faces in returning to an elite level. He had slipped to 128th in the world after missing the cut in Las Vegas, jumped to 82nd with his tie for third at the CJ Cup, then lost three spots after a tie for 44th at the Zozo. Fowler never broke par in the limited-field event and now needs to decide how much to tee it up in the remaining events of 2021.
After this week’s Bermuda Championship, there are just three tournaments — Mayakoba in Mexico, the Houston Open and the RSM Classic.
If Fowler can keep building on his victories, there’s no reason to say it isn’t possible for him to make it to the Masters this season. However, he will have to do a lot better than 44th place finished if he hopes to get there. Top-10 finishes are the only meaningful way to move up. Short of that, Fowler will head into 2022 with a lot of doubts about his playing schedule.
In order to make the Masters field, he will need to either win a PGA Tour event or be among the top 50 in the world two weeks prior to the first major championship. Winning would also get him in the Players, as would being among the top 50 in the world or top 10 in FedEx Cup points.
“Everyone’s gone through ups and downs in golf,” he said. “When you’re in those low points, there’s times when you wonder like ‘Am I ever going to be back in that position?’ Obviously you believe that you can, but there’s those thoughts [that] golf is obviously one of the most humbling sports there is and you can never take it for granted.
“So being in those positions, you know where you want to be, you know you can be there, you’ve been there before, but it seems like a long uphill battle. It’s definitely been humbling. We’ve been patient, but it’s nice to see some stuff start paying off.”
This article originally appeared on ESPN.