HOYLAKE, England — Rickie Fowler employed Butch Harmon early in 2014 with one goal in mind: get a game that could compete in majors.
It’s been an undeniable success.
Fowler shot a bogey-free 67 in the final round of the British Open to finish in a tie for second alongside Sergio Garcia, two shots behind champion Rory McIlroy.
Fowler’s major results in 2014 speak for themselves — Masters: T5, U.S. Open: T2, British Open: T2.
Before this season, he had more missed cuts (4) in majors than top-10 finishes (2). Now, he’s the eighth-ranked played in the world and has played in two consecutive final pairings in majors. His run of top-5 finishes in the season’s first three majors hadn’t been achieved since Tiger Woods did so in 2005. (One minor difference: Tiger finished 1-2-1.)
Fowler finished strong on Sunday, but for the second-straight major, he ran into a player who was unstoppable. Fowler’s performance at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst was overshadowed by Martin Kaymer’s dominant runaway victory, and Fowler’s final-round 66 at Royal Liverpool made him the only player in the field to shoot four rounds in the 60s, and the third player to do so at the British Open and not walk away with the Claret Jug. (Ernie Els, twice, and Jesper Parnevik are the others.) He led the field with 23 birdies, three more than McIlroy.
Is Fowler the new face of American golf? There aren’t many better options, but let’s hold off before placing that burden on his orange-clad shoulders. He’s still only won one PGA Tour event (in a playoff against McIlroy and D.A. Points at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship) and has missed seven cuts this season. But in less than one year, Harmon has turned Fowler into a force to be reckoned with at major championships.
At the 2013 British Open, Fowler — like McIlroy — missed the cut at Muirfield after opening rounds of 78-76. That was the lowest Fowler’s confidence has ever dipped, he said.
“It was just at that point I wanted to have a little bit of guidance and start moving forward,” Fowler said. “I was kind of at a standstill and wasn't getting what I wanted out of my game.”
In this year’s three majors, Fowler hasn’t blinked in the spotlight, believing that he has what it takes to compete with the world’s best on the world’s biggest stages.
“Right now I'm definitely able to come in the majors believing in myself and believing in my game,” Fowler said. “And that gives me so much confidence knowing that I'm working, I believe, with the best coach there is in golf. And to see the amount of work we've put in to prepare to be in positions at majors this year and to see it actually pay off, it just keeps building confidence for myself. So this year, with how comfortable I felt in the majors, it's not even close to the past few years. It's kind of hard to explain. It doesn't feel like a big stage. It feels like I'm supposed to be here.”
The confidence is there. The next step is clear.