Just one year after Rickie Fowler went undefeated in leading the USA to victory in the Walker Cup Match at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., the PGA Tour rookie finds himself representing the U.S. again, this time on a much bigger stage.
Fowler, who posted a 4-0 record last September in the 16½-9½ win over Great Britain and Ireland, is among the 12 players set to compete for the U.S. in the upcoming Ryder Cup Oct. 1-3 at Celtic Manor Resort in Southport, Wales. The 22-year-old Las Vegas resident was one of four wild-card picks announced by U.S. Captain Corey Pavin on Sept. 7 in New York. Though he ended up 17th in the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings, Fowler became the first PGA Tour rookie to earn a captain’s pick after a strong season that included two runner-up finishes and five top-10s. He has earned more than $2.3 million after a successful amateur and All-American career at Oklahoma State University.
The Ryder Cup represents Fowler’s fourth turn representing America in an international competition. The California native was the youngest member of the team that edged GB&I in the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down in Newcastle, Northern Ireland. Fowler, just 18 at the time and a freshman at Oklahoma State, went 3-1 in the USA’s 12½-11½ victory. In addition, he was a member of the USA squad that finished second in the 2008 World Amateur Team Championship in Australia.
Over a series of three separate interviews with Dave Shedloski, Fowler shared his thoughts on the upcoming Ryder Cup Matches and how his experience in the Walker Cup will help him contribute to the American cause at Celtic Manor in Wales.
How much suspense was there about the Ryder Cup for you? Did Corey let you know ahead of time? Exactly where were you when you found out?
Fowler: Well, we had a dinner at the PGA Championship. He brought 20 guys and basically everyone just kind of hung out, and he said that he was going to make the picks Monday night, and that he was going to call everyone. He texted me on Sunday to basically get my travel plans to kind of know when he was able to call me. So I was expecting it at some point on Monday night.
That was really the only … indication that I got. There was nothing that swayed me to believe that I was going to be picked or there was nothing that was telling me that I wasn't going to be picked. I was on the edge of the fence. I didn't know where I was going. I was going to be fine with it either way. I'm still young, and I feel like I may have some more chances to play on the Ryder Cup team, but I also thought being able to play early in my career would be beneficial and would be an awesome experience, especially after two Walker Cups that I've played.
I actually went out to dinner with Bubba Watson, later to find out he was texting with Corey basically the whole time, and they were basically voting and spending that time picking the final guys on the team. So he's sitting across the table from me while he's – basically the whole team is deciding on what's going on.
I ended up getting back to the hotel room, and my dad and I were actually playing some PlayStation. I bring my PlayStation with me. It's a great way to kill some time on the road. Anyways, about 9:30 rolled around, and a bit of suspense because I wasn't sure, like I said, when he was going to call. And it got later in the night, and I was like, Corey is staying up late tonight. Finally got the call at 9:30, and the conversation started out very short, just asked what I was up to, what I had done for the night, and then basically went right into saying, hey, would you like to be a part of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. I didn't have to think about that too much. Told him I'd love to, and it went from there to basically spending some time figuring out some details for the weeks upcoming. It's pretty cool to have the opportunity to go over there and definitely looking forward to it.
Was there a bit of an emotional high to deal with?
Fowler: Yes and no. In some ways, it hasn’t really hit me fully yet. I don’t think it will until we get over there and start working with the team and playing practice rounds and getting a feel for the whole thing. It’s a pretty cool feeling, though, I can tell you that.
You had said at the start of the year kind of quietly that really was one of your goals, to make the Ryder Cup team, which seemed like a pretty lofty goal for a new guy. But now that it's worked out, how satisfying is that?
Fowler: Yeah, like you said, through, probably up until I finished second at Waste Management [in Scottsdale, Ariz.], it wasn't really on my radar screen that the Ryder Cup was a real possibility. So like I said, up until I finished second at Waste Management, then I kind of moved up on some points lists. I had actually never looked at the points list early on and knew if I kept playing well I may have a chance. So it was an outside – it was one of my last goals, or obviously one of my first ones was to play well and secure my [PGA Tour] card for the 2011 season, and we kind of just started picking off our goals. The one that's kind of left out right now is the win, or multiple wins, but we still need to get the first one first.
Do you think what you did last fall, playing so well in the Walker Cup and then playing well immediately after you turned professional really set you up for having a chance to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team?
Fowler: Possibly. Obviously, I was going to have to come in from January on to make the team, and what I did last fall didn’t really have a bearing, per se. But playing in the Walker Cup, obviously that was an experience that put me in a frame of mind to where I knew the next thing would be a Ryder Cup. After the Walker Cup I did see a few things written that the Ryder Cup was next year, and, hey, wouldn’t that be interesting. But I was just trying to establish myself as a pro first. It certainly wasn’t anything, though, in my mind that I was going to go right out and make the Ryder Cup team after a good Walker Cup.
How will Walker Cup experience help you most?
Fowler: It’s a similar setup on the competition and all the things around it. Sure, it’s a bigger stage. But having the playing experience in two Walker Cups will directly relate to how I handle the Ryder Cup, I think, and help me feel more comfortable, both with the formats and with the crowds. The Walker Cup was a good glimpse of what I probably will see in Wales, again just on a larger scale.
What do you remember about your nerves from the first Walker Cup? That first match and that first shot?
Fowler: Well, I wasn’t scared, I can tell you that, but I remember being really nervous the first few holes. It took me a while before I settled down and just started playing golf. I was pumped up and getting the juices flowing, that’s for sure. By the fourth or fifth hole I finally started feeling normal, and I started playing well.
What is your best memory from the Walker Cup?
Fowler: We won both so both had their points that stuck out. The first one (in 2007) obviously we had a lot of great players, and it came down to the wire. We were back on 17 and when we heard that JMoore (Jonathan Moore) had made his [eagle] putt [on 18 to beat Nigel Edwards of Wales, 1 up] that was pretty exciting. We were running around with our arms in the air, and I was celebrating with Webb [Simpson] who had been feeling sick, and even he was smiling. And then we were driving up 18 and I was riding in a cart with the flag in my hands. That was pretty cool.
In 2009, just the fact that I was able to share it with two college teammates [from Oklahoma State] on the team, Morgan [Hoffmann] and Peter [Uihlein], was great.
Does it feel like it’s too soon, you being on the Ryder Cup team?
Fowler: I don’t think so. I feel ready. Getting into the Ryder Cup wasn’t just a goal; it was a lifelong goal.
When did you find out that Bubba was actually communicating back and forth with Corey about you?
Fowler: This was after I got picked. Later that night once Bubba knew that I got picked, he called me – actually he texted me first and asked if I got – what I was doing, if I got a phone call. I said, "Maybe," just kind of messing around with him. He called me, and he's like, you know at dinner I was texting Corey the whole time. We were trying to figure out who was going to be on the team.
What was cool about the whole situation is that Corey brought in all the assistants and all the team members to basically help him out pick the last four guys, which I thought was pretty cool, because it makes the player – well, the players basically pick their own team in a way. Obviously Corey makes the final decision. So like I said, I had no indication to believe that I was going to be on the team or off the team. I was kind of sitting there teetering back and forth on top of the fence.
You've seen the other 11 that are on the team. Do you have any idea who you think you would be best to be paired with?
Fowler: Not yet. The main focus was getting on the team first. There are a few guys that may stand out a little bit more than most right now, but that's kind of my first job that Corey asked of me was to kind of pick and choose a few here and there that I feel like I might be able to play better with or whatever. But really when I think about it, playing in Walker Cup and stuff, I feel like I can kind of fit with anyone's game and find a way to play with different guys.
I guess I'm going to be a bit of a rover, and I told Corey, for the most part, I'll play with anyone, whoever you feel like I fit best with, but I'll give him a few that I think may fit me better.
Out of the rookie class, you may be the only one who's ever played four-ball and foursomes in any kind of competitive match.
Fowler: Dustin [Johnson] maybe – I think Dustin and [Jeff] Overton. Overton played Walker Cup [in 2005].
But not as much as you.
Fowler: Yeah. Dustin and Overton just played the one Walker Cup apiece, so I think all of them have a little bit of experience. I've played the two, which I loved. I love playing in the team events. They're a lot of fun. We'll get over there, and I'm sure we'll narrow it down to a few guys and play a bit with each other and kind of figure out what's working best. It's a great team. Like you said, there's a few rookies, but we've also got some great veterans on the team. I think we're going to work well together.
Do you feel different about your game now that you’re on the team?
Fowler: Personally, yeah, in a way, in that I’m certainly gearing up in a different mode, where I want to be ready for the Ryder Cup and play as well as I can. As soon as I found out, that was my thought process, getting ready for the Ryder Cup knowing that it would only help me in tournament play, too.
Do you know anything about the course at Celtic Manor?
Fowler: Nope. I know Bubba has been playing Celtic Manor a little bit on Xbox. I don’t know how he’s doing, but that’s one way he’s getting ready. I know I played Firestone on PlayStation after we played in the WGC event there, and you do get a bit of a feel for the golf course. You could sense the similarities. But I almost feel like I’m better in real life golfing than I am on a video game. That’s probably a good thing. I find myself getting more angry playing the game than I do when I’m on a golf course.
You know, we’ll all just be figuring it out once we get there, just like any course we see for the first time. We’ll be figuring those things out, like pairings and how to play the course, what holes you drive on in alternate shot and whatever. And, again, I’ve been through that with the Walker Cup both at home and in Ireland.
There’s always going to be scrutiny with any of the captain’s picks, on both sides, America and Europe. That’s part of the aftermath, picking apart the picks. Have you consumed some of the media with opinions about Corey picking you, about whether or not he made the right choice?
Fowler: Well, it’s good that they’re talking about it and that they’re talking about me; that’s how I see it. It’s kind of the same position I was in when I was picked for the Walker Cup when I was 18. That turned out OK. I’m not too worried about what is written or said. I’m just focusing on preparing to go over there and doing as well as I can.
I can understand what some people might be saying. I’m young. I’m a rookie. I don’t have any Ryder Cup experience. I didn’t finish as high up on the points as a few other guys that didn’t get picked. But the experience I’ve had so far is pretty helpful. I was in two Walker Cups, and I played well in the two that I played in. The Walker Cup experience was great, and I know it’s going to help me. I know what to expect from the standpoint of playing with a partner, playing for your country. So I’ve been through that and that pressure, albeit the pressure will be greater in Wales. But it’s not going to be a total shock to my system.
Some call your pick a risk and a gamble.
Fowler: Maybe I am a risk and a gamble. But I think there’s a lot of potential upside to the gamble.
Yes, and some of the veteran U.S. players look at your pick as an investment in the future. Stewart Cink was one player adamant that having a young player like you on the team is a good move.
Fowler: Well, I would agree with that because, hopefully, this isn’t going to be my only Ryder Cup. It’s a great time to start and get experience. Again, I don’t feel it’s too soon for me. You’re always going to have some new blood on the team, and I think I can bring a lot to the table. Of course, I have other goals for my career, but if I reach those goals, then I’m going to be playing in the Ryder Cup again. I don’t think Corey would have picked me if he didn’t think I was ready. I feel like I’m ready, and I can’t wait to go over there and hopefully be a part of another winning team.