Rickie Fowler's long awaited breakthrough win on the PGA Tour arrived earlier this month. But unlike many golfers who need to be atop leaderboards to gain popularity, Fowler has attracted a sizable gallery following since he turned pro three years ago.
A pop sensation and fashion trendsetter, the former Oklahoma State All-American's flashy apparel has created a cultlike following among a new generation of golfers.
Young, loyal fans, many among his 350,000 Twitter followers, are drawn to a 23-year-old rising star who wears florescent clothes and a big hat with a lion logo.
“Never has one player moved the needle on fashion so quickly as Rickie Fowler,” said OSU coach Mike McGraw. “I don't know how Puma has kept up with the demand.”
Fowler has the talent and pizazz to develop into one of the PGA Tour's elite players, and a golfer fans love to root for.
For years golf experts have raved about his swing and mental makeup.
Fowler has solid credentials dating back to his amateur days. He compiled a 7-1 match-play record on two Walker Cup teams and was the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world for 36 consecutive weeks. His freshman year at OSU, he won the Ben Hogan Award as the top college golfer.
As a pro, he will surpass $8 million in career earnings this weekend at the Colonial. He was the first rookie ever selected to the Ryder Cup team. He has five career second-place finishes.
But Fowler had never won on the PGA Tour until the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this month.
In his 67th PGA Tour event, Fowler won a three-way playoff that included Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 ranked player in the world.
If nothing else, the win ended the question: “Why hasn't Rickie Fowler won?”
“It freed me up a lot,” Fowler said in a phone interview with The Oklahoman. “It got the weight off my shoulders, the monkey off my back. It mainly freed me up getting that first win out of the way.”
Fowler is playing the best golf of his life. The week after his debut win, Fowler finished tied for second at The Players Championship. The streak began with a top-10 finish the final tournament in April in New Orleans.
“I'm obviously playing well right now,” Fowler said. “I'm confident in my game mentally. The last month or so is some of the best ball striking I've had of my career.
“There were points like the Walker Cups, and the Ryder Cup two years ago, when I played really well. But for a stretch, this is some of the best golf I've ever played.”
Fowler is a dynamo wrapped in 5-foot-9, 150-pound wiry frame. But it's not as if a major change produced his recent hot streak.
“I wouldn't say it's anything in particular,” Fowler said. “I feel I have really good balance and really good rhythm throughout the swing so I'm able to deliver the club consistently. Hitting the ball out of the center of the face can help a lot of things.”
One of the side benefits to the long-awaited win was it ignited a celebration among his legion of fans, neon clad devotees wearing flat-brimmed hats.
“There was a lot of pressure on me,” Fowler said. “A lot of fans wanted it so much for me, so it was good to get it out of the way.”
Regardless of where he ranks on the money list — he's currently seventh with nearly $2.5 million in earnings this year — Fowler will be one of the most popular players on the tour simply because of how he dresses.
Making cuts and being in contention draws fans. But his taste in clothing is part of Fowler's persona.
McGraw has spent the past 15 years with OSU's nationally renowned golf program, the last seven as head coach. He's seen several talented Cowboys turn pro.
Fowler is unique.
His outside-the-box fashion is legendary. If he plays on Sundays, he wears orange head to toe as a tribute to OSU. Orange tends to stand out.
Standing out, though, is nothing new for Fowler. He began wearing slacks in junior competition when he was 12 because “that's what the pros wore.”
When McGraw began following his career at age 16, Fowler wore a big white belt and white slacks.
“He looked different than any junior golfer,” McGraw said. “He wore long hair. No one else wore it like that. Rickie knew he wanted to look different. Payne Stewart did it. When Payne Stewart started wearing those knickers, everyone knew Payne Stewart. It's a trademark.”