Rickie Fowler and the inevitable question of whether or not this is the week he will finally win a major championship

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ST. LOUIS — You know the same, tired, cliched, Rickie Fowler column you’ve read 100 times? The one about how Fowler has never won a major, but maybe — just maybe — this week is his chance to shed that dreaded label of the best guy who hasn’t?

This is not that column.

I’m as weary of writing it as you are of reading it. I’ve come to believe it’s a lazy way to define the 29-year-old Fowler, and I’m no longer willing to participate in that song and dance, even after Fowler shot 65 on Thursday in the first round of the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club.

In fact, instead of beating you over the head with the fact that Fowler hasn’t won a major, allow me to take this opportunity to talk to you about what Fowler did do during his first-round 65. We’ll have plenty of time to talk about what he hasn’t accomplished if this week falls apart and he once again has to wait around and congratulate someone else for winning a trophy, but why bother with any of that for the moment?

Here is what Fowler did do on Thursday:

  • He did switch his shirt at the last minute, ditching the navy blue one he was scripted by Puma to wear, and traded it in for a yellow model. The reason? He wanted to honor former PGA Tour player Jarrod Lyle, who died on Wednesday after a long battle with cancer. Lyle, who was 36 and leaves behind a wife and two children, frequently wore a yellow bucket hat during his playing career. A majority of players are wearing yellow ribbons this week as a tribute to the sardonic Lyle, but Fowler wanted to take it a step further.

    “It’s been a tough few weeks,” Fowler said. “I was lucky enough to be able to talk to him last Friday, so one thing that did help is hearing kind of from him how he felt. He sounded like he was in a good spot. It’s been fun to be thinking about him while we’re out there playing because he would probably be the one to kind of kick you in the butt if you started feeling sad or bad.”

    Fowler, who became friends with Lyle when they were frequently paired together at the start of their careers, spoke softly as he tried to find the words to explain what Lyle meant to him. He said thinking about Lyle actually helped him during his opening round. “I feel like it takes your mind off golf,” Fowler said. “Being able to focus on the shot at hand and then, in between, thinking about Jarrod and his family and everything they’re dealing with and the impact he’s had on everyone out here. It can work as a benefit if you go about it the right way.”

  • Fowler did admit he hasn’t watched any of the highlights from this year’s final round at the Masters, when he shot a 67 and put some heat on Patrick Reed, only to ultimately finish second. A reporter wanted to know whether he’d dwelled on that near-miss, whether that runner-up was any more painful than his other close finishes in major championships. Nope, Fowler said. Don’t really think too much about it. “Jordan [Spieth] told me Patrick had a long putt on 17 from off the green, and it hit the pin to kind of stay on the green,” Fowler said. “Saying that’s a good break or not, I don’t know. Like I said, I haven’t seen it. Sometimes that’s something you need to get just over the hump.”

  • Fowler did happily correct a reporter who asked him whether he was excited about shooting 64 at Bellerive, and what that meant for his chance to win a major. “I would have liked 64, but I shot 65,” Fowler said. “Six under would have been good, too.”

  • He did get heckled by Spieth in the middle of his post-round interview session, laughing as Spieth teased him on his way to the first tee. “Thanks Jordan, appreciate it.” Fowler said, before mock introducing Spieth to the media. “That’s Jordan Spieth, guys.”

  • Fowler did reveal that, unlike a lot of players in the field, he actually enjoys playing on Zoysia grass and might have a bit of a hidden advantage this week because of it. Zoysia is a strain of grass that is sticky, which most PGA Tour players don’t love because it makes it hard to hit clean shots. “We don’t see it much, but I’m definitely enjoying it,” Fowler said. “I have more rounds than most on it. Our home course at Oklahoma State was Zoysia and always kind of on the softer side. We would get similar weather to here throughout the year. So it’s fun to be back on Zoysia. It’s one you probably don’t see a whole lot as a golfer.”

  • Fowler did also confess he’s planning to play some pretty conservative golf at Bellerive. His plan this week, if he can pull it off, will be to bore everyone to tears, to try to eliminate the big blow-up holes that have plagued him over the years. He didn’t miss any fairways on Thursday, he missed only two greens (and one of those approaches ended up on the fringe) and he putted well. Doing that over four days sounds about as exciting as watching a continuous loop of Fowler’s ubiquitous insurance and mortgage commercials, but it also might just work.

“We’ll stick to not trying to overpower it and trying to get that extra,” Fowler said. “Just get the ball in the fairway. You get me in the fairway, and with the soft greens, I feel like we can pick apart the golf course.”

It’s possible all of that was just a prelude to another disappointing major for Fowler. After this year’s Masters, he now has eight top-5s in a major. Since the Masters began, only three players have had more top-5s and failed to win one: Lee Westwood, Jay Haas and Harry Cooper. That’s not exactly a group Fowler wants to forever be lumped in with.

There will be plenty of time to kvetch over what he isn’t, though, if it goes sideways. For now, here is what Fowler is, which is all that matters: he’s in the hunt.



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