Tour Confidential: Where Does Rickie Fowler Rank Among Top Tier of PGA Tour?

September 8, 2015

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Rickie Fowler came from behind to win the Deutsche Bank Championship over Henrik Stenson and is now the 5th ranked player in the world. With all the talk of the new “Big Three” including Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, where does Rickie fit in the mix of the Tour’s top tier?

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@JeffRitter): Rickie can’t join the Big Three until he gets that first major, but he’s squarely on the Best Without a Major list (still headlined by Dustin Johnson). That said, the Deutsche was a great victory over strong field, and Fowler was clutch over the closing holes. After a flaky summer, he’s on the rise again.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): This is a case where the World Rankings feel pretty much right: he’s up there very close to the best of the best. But in the unofficial rankings that matter more, the Big Three doesn’t turn into the Fantastic Four until Fowler gets his major, which he will.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Fowler has had two terrific wins this year against good fields on golf courses where a lot can go wrong. He’s contended in majors. He’s fun to watch. I love his energy. But McIlroy, Spieth and Day are, for now, a full tier ahead of him, and McIlroy and Spieth have more shots at their disposal.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@EamonLynch): For all of his game-changing stardom and greatly improved results, Fowler has to be considered just outside the upper echelon until he wins a major. It’s the standard to entry to that elite bracket.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Rickie had what would’ve been a Player-of-the-Year type performance in many years but not this year. The New Big Three are on top of the golf world. Rickie is in a class that’s one step down. He has to win a major to step up to that top tier.

2. The always popular David Feherty is reportedly out after 19 years with CBS as a golf analyst. How big a loss is his departure to the CBS golf team? If you’re betting, where does Feherty go next?

VAN SICKLE: Feherty is already doing stand-up in theaters. He doesn’t need a gig as a roving foot-soldier anymore. I think he’ll wind up hosting some kind of talk show, possibly golf-related, for one of the cable sports networks.

LYNCH: The obvious choice would be NBC Sports, with whom he has a relationship through his Golf Channel show. But if Feherty wants a bigger role and is no longer interested in being a fairway foot soldier in the broadcast, then one assumes his options are considerably more limited. CBS broadcasts may be poorer for his absence, but perhaps that on-air lineup is due a little freshening. This season’s addition of Frank Nobilo—one of the sharpest analysts in the game—was a good start.

BAMBERGER: If CBS’s golf coverage survived the retirement of Henry Longhurst, and it did, I believe it will manage without David Feherty as well, breath of fresh air though he has been. Whatever Feherty does next, I imagine it will have him doing less and getting paid more for it.

RITTER: Feherty is a one-of-kind TV personality, so his departure hurts CBS. It’s just a guess, but it makes sense that he now ramp up his work on NBC/Golf Channel, which already hosts his interview show.

SENS: I’ve always enjoyed Feherty, especially at the Masters. His was one of the rare Augusta cases where the stiff structures of traditions actually turned him into a better broadcaster by forcing him to tone down some of his shtick. You got to hear more clearly just how insightful he could be. It’s a loss, but they call it a team for a reason; life will go on without him. Given his relationship with Golf Channel, NBC would seem like the natural move.


3. Jordan Spieth missed consecutive cuts for the first time in his career after shooting 75-73 at the Deutsche Bank. What do you make of Spieth’s uninspiring play to open the playoffs? 

VAN SICKLE: Spieth’s fall is an unavoidable letdown after chasing golf’s Grand Slam. Cashing FedEx money (less than he’s already won this year) and more titles isn’t the same as playing for history. After his thrilling season in the majors, the Barclays and the Deutsche Bank may as well be the CVS Charity Classic and the Shark Shootout to Spieth. He had to be mentally exhausted.

BAMBERGER: Tired young man and nothing else.

LYNCH: He’s had a long year and is playing in what are really money grab events, no matter how much the Tour tries to persuade us these are meaningful playoffs. He could miss the next two cuts as well and it won’t diminish his season in the least.

RITTER: Spieth surprised me at the Barclays when he switched to a new set of irons after such a hot streak, but I think fatigue is probably the biggest factor. He became a superstar this year. That takes a toll.

SENS: That, like the rest of us, he’s a little worn out after his exhilarating season, chock full of events that matter to him more.

4. Sixty-nine percent of our Top 100 Teachers believe Tiger Woods will win at least one PGA Tour event in 2016, but none believe he will win a major next year. Do you agree? If not, do you think he’ll fare better or worse?

VAN SICKLE: I agree that Tiger may win again in 2016. To win a major, he’s going to have to get his game to a high, high level. Day shot the all-time major low score of 20-under, and Spieth tied the Masters scoring record of 18-under. To beat these guys, Tiger’s driver has to become a weapon again, not a liability, and he has to go back to putting great. That’s a tall order for anyone.

LYNCH: Much as I think it would be great for the game, I think Tiger winning anything next year seems unlikely. Guys win on Tour in part because their misses are better than others. Tiger’s misses cripple him, and it’s hard to combat that. 

RITTER: I agree with the Top 100. If he’s healthy, and yes, that’s an enormous IF, Tiger showed enough improvement this summer to get back to winning golf next year. Majors? Aside from the Masters, Woods stunk it up this year. I think he’s probably going to stick at 14 titles.

SENS: Not hard to imagine him winning an event but tougher to picture him getting past the mental obstacles that have been tripping up at the majors, to one degree or another, since his last big win in 2008.


5. Donald Trump’s wide-ranging Q&A with GOLF Magazine hits newsstands this week with Trump saying, among other things, that President Obama is playing golf the wrong way (Trump thinks the president should play golf for business purposes, not just with his buddies) and that Trump’s course in Aberdeen, Scotland is the greatest golf course in the world. If you could ask Trump one question, what would it be?

VAN SICKLE: Do you have someone you listen to, some who can call bulls– on you when you’re wrong without getting fired If so, who is it? If not, I’m available.

LYNCH: “At long last, have you finally no sense of decency, sir?”

RITTER: How does it feel to help the Mexican economy?

BAMBERGER: Do you really want to be in charge of the nuclear football?

SENS: Will you please play me right now in a match, straight up, my net worth against your net worth, no foot-wedges or mulligans, at the venue of your choice?

6. The PGA Grand Slam of Golf, an exhibition that features the season’s major winners, was cancelled after the PGA of America could not find another venue to host the event, two months after pulling it from Trump National Los Angeles. Should the event continue? Is there an alternate event you’d like to see?

VAN SICKLE: The PGA Grand Slam, which once upon a time invited Mike Ditka to play in the field, has long since outlived it relevance. How about rebranding it to invite all of the major winners from the PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour? That might be interesting.

LYNCH: Watching 36 holes of stroke play involving the winners of four majors — assuming all the winners show up, which they often don’t—is not compelling television. The PGA of America has publicly committed itself to growing the game through its junior leagues and increased participation by women and minorities. Having each major winner act as a coach/mentor to teams drawn from those constituencies in a skills challenge would have measurably more impact in the game than the current Grand Slam event.

RITTER: I’d cut it and create a new match play event with 16 players: 4 each from the PGA Tour, Euro Tour, Champions Tour and LPGA. Hey, it’s silly season. Why not try something new?

SENS: If they can’t muster up enough energy and interest to land a venue, let it lie and replace with a four-player stroke play competition involving Trump, Hillary, Obama and Jeb Bush with everybody mic’d up, including their spouse caddies.

BAMBERGER: I really think there’s too much golf already, both the regular season and in the so-called off-season. It’s more than I can keep up with. There’s no chance to catch your breath, miss the sport and look forward to the start of the next season. A nine-month golf season would be plenty long enough. The PGA Grand Slam of Golf would be a casualty along the way. Life would go on and I actually think golf would be better. 

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.