NAPA, CA – Ricky Fowler was standing among the cans at the Silverado Resort and Spa and indulging in a reporter Tuesday when a black kitten caught his attention.
Fowler raised his phone and pointed at the cat.
“I’ll take a picture of Allison,” he said as he prepared to play a practice round for this week’s inaugural Fortinet Championship. “We have two cats at home. They are easy to travel. They take care of themselves.”
It can be said that all golfers, at least the most successful, have nine lives. Depression comes and goes. Equipment outlasts its usefulness. Enclosure partnerships are getting weirdly outdated.
All 28 members of the junior class of the PGA TOUR are scheduled to compete in the Fortinet, including five (Trevor Cone, Nicolas Echavarria, Harrison Endycott, Vincent Norrman and Kevin Roy) who will start their first-ever Tour.
Then there’s Fowler, 33, who will start over in an attempt to break out of the mid-career slump that saw him drop to 176th in the world. He will have a new chariot this week, his friend and veteran TOUR caddy Ricky Romano, and Fortinet will be his first championship since returning to swing coach Butch Harmon after a three-year stint with John Tillery.
“I love Tillery,” said Fowler, who missed the FedExCup qualifiers for the first time in his career, failing to advance after FedEx St. Jude last month. “I can’t say anything bad about him; I had to put the personal side away and just look at what was best for me in golf. We gave it our all for three years.
“There was almost too much of a language barrier in a way,” he added.
Back in Harmon, Fowler seeks comfort in the ordinary. The two have been together for five or more years, with Fowler finishing fourth in the official golf rankings and winning the 2015 Players Championship, one of five rounds he won.
Limited to text messages and phone calls so far, they will likely meet in person in Las Vegas, where Harmon is, on the Mondays of Shriners Children’s Open in early October. Fowler knows what he’s supposed to work on – a plane with a steeper left arm, a higher hand on top – and like many players he sometimes finds himself working on things in strange places.
On the weekend of the BMW Championships last month, he, his wife, Allison, and their daughter, Maya, went to Bakers Bay Golf and Ocean Club in the Bahamas for some R’s and R’s. Stop him from playing.
“I bumped into some and played some holes with a rental set,” he said. “I wanted to do some flips. Just played with everything they had. The driver’s shaft wasn’t a great thing, so I played irons. One day I played like 12 holes with an assistant pro over there, kid I know through Discovery.
“It was great to get away, have some fun, and work on some swing stuff.”
Fowler paused, sipping from a Presidents Cup water bottle, as a reminder that while he’s been a member of the US Presidents Cup team three times, next week’s event will go on without him. (He was also on four US Ryder Cup teams.)
There were glimpses of progress in the Tillery era, but in a way that only added to the frustration. Fowler finished T3 at THE CJ CUP@SUMMIT last season, but that was 11 months ago and that was his only top 10 finish. He’s only made 13 cuts in 22 starts.
The last man to compete in the FedEx St. Jude Last month, Fowler debuted a new, albeit temporary, case. Fowler and his old friend Joe Skovron, a friend from his home in Murrieta, California, agreed to separate.
“It wasn’t what either of us wanted,” Fowler said.
He opened with a 65 at TPC Southwind but finished with a T64. He and Tiger Woods set off from South Florida for a player meeting early in the week at BMW, after which Fowler and his family went to the Bahamas. When he was on vacation he started thinking about replacing the can in the long run.
“I waited two weeks because I didn’t really want to think about it,” Fowler said. “I took some time off, and thought, ‘Do I want someone as a friend? Do I want it to be a complete business? For me, I’ve always wanted to have fun. Rick is someone I’ve known for a long time, he’s been a very good player, and I felt he was a great fit to try this fall'” .
Team Ricky/Rickey will play round one at Silverado on Thursday, where Fowler will meet Joel Dahmen and Harris English. “We’re still in the process of being done,” Fowler said. “We accept or look at any title.”
Whether or not the new partnership pays off will have a lot to do with Fowler’s ability to put the ball in the hole. Gaining his strokes: The rankings have dropped dramatically with his world rankings, but he’s seen encouraging signs in Memphis. It’s still out there, somewhere, and guys like Ben Hogan and Tom Watson didn’t find their absolute best gears until their 30s.
“I feel like I’m in a really good place,” Fowler said. “You can say I am as healthy and strong as I have ever been. Home life couldn’t be better. The little one is adorable.”
When asked about his goals, he added, “Back to the fun and competition. Over the past few years, I haven’t been in a position to compete much. There have been many times, but there shouldn’t be big gaps between getting a chance to win. I want to get out I will defeat men.”
Fowler is determined to prove that he’s still the same guy who won the PLAYERS title in 2015, and made the TOUR Championship most recently in 2019. He’s still there; He just has to find it.