One of the most popular figures in world golf, Rickie Fowler, returns to Gullane, the scene of his first European Tour title, hoping that another fast finish can propel him to join the illustrious list of Rolex Series winners and set up a charge at next week’s Open.
On a typically breezy final mid-July day in 2015 on Scotland’s Golf Coast, Fowler was happy to bide his time before producing birdies on three of the last four holes to seal a one-stroke win over fellow countryman Matt Kuchar and France’s Raphael Jacquelin, and the 29-year-old is keen to get down to business this week on a course he clearly cherishes. “I love links golf – the golf course can play so differently each day and it’s always such an interesting challenge,” says Fowler, who has a record of three top tens in three appearances at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.
“Gullane was a very good test back in 2015. I had played the last four holes well all week, so I knew that I had birdies in me after dropping a shot at the 14th on Sunday, and it turned out to be a perfect finish. This is a really special place for me and the Scottish fans are always so knowledgeable and appreciative. It’s also good preparation for The Open. You often see guys who have played in the Scottish Open doing well the following week, so I’m looking forward to two good weeks on the links.”
‘A Matter of Time’
While a perfect finish at one of the game’s Majors is still missing from Fowler’s CV, he has been knocking on the door on many occasions and believes it’s just a matter of time before he becomes a Major champion. His runner-up finish to Patrick Reed at this year’s Masters was the third time he has finished second in a Major and his ninth top ten in total, dating back to 2011. “A big part of my improvement in the Majors has just been the way my caddie, Joe, and I have been working together,” said Fowler. “To go through the full process over and over, not getting too quick, making sure we stay patient and ready to commit, and hit each shot as it comes, works well. If I make a bad swing then we just deal with the consequences and move on.
“Every time you get in contention, the more comfortable you get. Some people are more fortunate to win Majors early on. For some, it’s just a case of going through a little bit of a process. Obviously, it would have been nice to get a Major earlier in my career, but I know it’s our time to go get one. It’s just kind of ticking the boxes and making sure we’re fully prepared.” Preparations don’t come more ready-made than the Scottish Open, with six of the last eight Open Champions having played in the event before clinching Major glory the following week. “The good thing about playing in Scotland is that the wind tends to be a bit heavier over here,” said Fowler. “So, getting used to that again, especially against such tough competition, and getting the shots right in the conditions, is important.”
‘Recognisable and Approachable’
With his customary tradition of wearing orange on Sundays, the colours of Oklahoma State University where he went to college, Fowler has become one of the most recognisable and approachable stars in the game. “My dream was to be able to play golf at the highest level. I wasn’t planning on what kind of fan base would be there, or anything like that,” he said, “but to have kids jump on board and embrace me, really from my first year on Tour has been something special.”
It’s been a successful ride since he won the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year and made his Ryder Cup debut in 2010. The following year he impressed at the rain-and- wind-battered Royal St Georges, displaying a touch and imagination en-route to take a share of fifth place in only his second Open. In 2012 he clinched his first title as a professional at Quail Hollow and enjoyed a superb season in 2015, adding The Players Championship and the Deutsche Bank Championship to his victory here at Gullane.
In 2016 he won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, highlighting his love for traveling and experiencing golf in different parts of the world, before returning to winning ways on home soil last year in Florida at the Honda Classic.
Fowler is joined in the field this week by a large contingent of American players, highlighting the tournament’s importance on the schedule the week before The Open.
Fan favourite – and winner of The Open five years ago just up the coast at Muirfield – Phil Mickelson is back for his 15th appearance at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open. Mickelson won at Castle Stuart before putting in one of his finest Major performances to seal the Claret Jug and he’ll be hoping for more of the same this week.
“There isn’t a better way to get ready for a Major Championship than playing the week before and getting into contention, and coming out on top just gives me more confidence,” said Mickelson. “I can’t wait to tee off at Gullane and play in front of the Scottish crowds again. I enjoyed the experience back in 2015 and being so close to Muirfield makes it feel a bit like a homecoming.”
Joining Mickelson and Fowler on Gullane’s links this week are four-time PGA Tour winner Charley Hoffman, four-time Ryder Cup player and former Players Champion Matt Kuchar, Peter Uihlein, Luke List and Kevin Chappell.
Add world stars like Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Haotong Li and Ernie Els, and this year’s Scottish Open is set to be one of the most memorable in many years.