One morning last July, while in Hoylake, England, to cover the British Open, I postponed my walk to the course so I could eat breakfast in town. The TV in the restaurant was tuned to the BBC, but no one paid it much mind until Rickie Fowler appeared on the set. My waiter froze. “He was just here!” the waiter gushed. “He doesn’t like mushrooms in his omelet!”
Why he would remember that, and why I have, as if Fowler might ask me to make him a frittata, speaks to his star power. Whether it’s his looks, his action-sports background or all that DayGlo pink, yellow and orange, Fowler, 26, fairly pops off your TV screen and settles into your frontal cortex.
All of which explains how Cobra Puma Golf became a player. Fowlermania wasn’t a thing when Puma got into golf in 2006, but the powers that be were clearly paying attention because they signed him the day he turned pro three years later. By the time Puma acquired Cobra in 2010, it was the perfect synchronicity of man and brand. Today, you can’t help but notice all the colorful Rickie-wear flying off the shelves and onto the heads and shoulders and feet of kids and adults alike.
“He moves the needle,” says Bob Philion, the president of Cobra Puma Golf. “You see the crowds that follow him. We’ve seen it go from a lot of kids to broaden into the general golf community, [still] including those kids. It’s about a youthful mind-set. He moves product, bottom line. We’ve done well over a million units on just the hat.”
Other Tour pros wear the German sportswear company’s gear, but everyone knows who’s top cat. “He’s absolutely made that brand,” one agent, not Fowler’s, says of Rickie. “The only thing I can compare it to is Tiger and Nike Golf.”
Last fall I went to the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills, outside Denver, to take a measure of Fowler’s appeal. When I got to the 1st green on Thursday morning, he was putting. Or not. The green was too marbled with fandom to see exactly what was going on.
Rachael Davidson and Teddy McNaughton, each 15, were fine with that because they soon found themselves talking to a reporter who had met Fowler, and talking about Fowler was almost as exciting as watching him play.
“I want to start playing because of this,” McNaughton said.
“I just stopped playing soccer to take up golf,” Davidson said. “I’d been playing soccer since I was three, so it was a big decision. Rickie switched to golf, so I did too. I want to meet him so bad.”
A few paces away Matt Schalk, PGA director of golf at Colorado National Golf Club, was with his son Blake, 11, who wore a flat-brim hat and a fluorescent-orange shirt. Blake was missing school for this, but his dad was O.K. with that. Schalk, it turns out, played in the same foursome with Fowler at the 2005 Callaway Pro-Scratch at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. Fowler was 16.
“I walked off the course telling everybody he was the best I ever played with,” Schalk said. “He had all the shots, and he was a good guy.
“But he’s why we’re here,” Schalk added, nodding toward his son. “He plays baseball, football and basketball, and Rickie’s got him a little excited about golf. What kind of clubs do you have, Blake?”
“Cobras,” Blake said. “I think Rickie’s got Cobras?”
His father nodded.
“Yeah,” Blake said. “Cobras."
Schalk, also a regional manager for OB Sports (which oversees 58 courses nationwide), marvels at how fans, especially kids, connect with Fowler.
“You look at my junior program, which is around 500 kids per summer, and 80% of them are wearing some sort of Rickie Fowler apparel,” Schalk said. When he watched the PGA at Valhalla last summer, with Fowler in the lead for much of the back nine on Sunday, Schalk said he was as emotionally invested as he has been in a tournament since Phil Mickelson won the 2004 Masters. “Sometimes,” Schalk admitted, “I root for guys based on what they’re going to do for my business.”
That’s the Fowler effect in action, and it’s why Philion says, “We hope he’s with us for a long, long time.”