Tour Confidential: Will Rickie Fowler’s 30s be better than his 20s?

December 17, 2018

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they discuss the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss Rickie Fowler’s post-30 prospects, the major-less player bound to snag one in 2019, Vijay Singh’s settled lawsuit against the Tour and more.

1. Despite just four PGA Tour wins, Rickie Fowler has long been one of the most beloved players on Tour. And where has the time gone? Fowler, who last won at the 2017 Honda Classic, celebrated his 30th birthday on Thursday. While you could argue that time is running out for him to win a major and pile up more victories, there’s plenty of evidence of pros hitting their second gear in their 30s (Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Zach Johnson, to name a few). Will Fowler follow their lead and save his best for his 30s?

Josh Sens, writer (@JoshSens): Fowler has had a very nice career up to now. I expect it to continue in the “very nice” department, with some wins sprinkled here and there, possibly a major, if many things fall into place. But I’m not expecting a different gear.

Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@Dylan_Dethier): Yeah, I’d say that’s right. It’s been interesting seeing how Fowler has said over and over that his big goal for the year is to pick up a major. I mean, we all already knew that was his goal, but it’s interesting to hear him acknowledge it, too. His game has no real holes; he’ll keep being good.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@AlanShipnuck): I agree with all of the above.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor (@Jeff_Ritter): I think Peak Rickie will always be that ‘14 season, where he top-fived in all four majors. He still flashes in majors here and there, and he could certainly improve his win rate (only four victories in nine seasons so far) if he keeps putting himself in contention in his 30s. I think he’ll win a major at some point, but if you figure he’ll win 5-6 times in the decade to come — which feels optimistic — the odds are still probably against it.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: I think his 30s will be even better than his 20s, and his 20s were excellent. There’s no device that can express how bullish I am on Rickie!

2. Speaking of Fowler, which major-less player will finally bag their first in 2019? (Congrats to Mr. Bamberger, who claims he’s a poor predictor, yet a year ago in this same space correctly picked Patrick Reed to win a major in 2018. Bamberger picked Reed to win the British, not the Masters, but we won’t nitpick.)

Sens: Ahem. If it please the court, I would like to note that I had Reed not only to win a major but to win the Masters. If I’m ever right again, it will be only the second time. I like Xander Schauffele to break through this year.

Dethier: In current form, Bryson DeChambeau is the best major-less player; I think he’s got the best chance to break through. Taking a peek further down the board, I’d expect cult hero Eddie Pepperell to contend at Royal Portrush in the British Open.

Shipnuck: It’s gotta be Fleetwood! He’s playing at such a high level and was right there at the last two U.S. Opens.

Bamberger: It’s gotta be Rickie! He’s playing at such a high level and he’s been right there several times over the past half-decade!

Ritter: Fleetwood almost feels too obvious, doesn’t he? I’ll go against the chalk: Give me Leishman to win the British at Portrush. Even in a slightly down year, Leish hung in the top 20 all of 2018. Feels like he’s due for that next breakthrough. Now that this pick is in, look for Tommy to beat Marc in a playoff…

Rickie Fowler hits out of a bunker.
Rickie Fowler has won some big events, but he’s still looking for that major victory.

3. Vijay Singh’s long-running lawsuit against the Tour (a.k.a. the Deer Antler Spray suit) was finally settled last month. “It was good for both sides, I guess. I’m glad it’s over,” Singh told Michael Bamberger. “It lingered on and on and on and it’s nice to just finally have it behind me. The PGA Tour has always been a great organization. It was just a [PED rule] that didn’t pan out. Everybody knows about it, I’m glad it’s over.” What are your thoughts on this exhausting case finally coming to a close, and do you think either side learned anything from it?

Sens: “Deer antler spray” made for some good punchlines but the case itself also inspired some more serious and fruitful reflection on what sort of perceived and actual violations were worth going after.

Dethier: I guess I re-learned that Vijay is not one to let something go. But I still feel like there’s plenty more we still don’t know about how the Tour approaches its disciplinary processes. And I also still don’t have a sense of how pervasive PEDs are on Tour, deer antler spray or otherwise.

Ritter: The Tour has to settle, or else the details of its drug-testing program (including a list of players who tested positive before it began publicizing punishments about a year ago) would’ve been laid bare in open court. The Tour never wanted that to happen, and I’d guess that’s why it cut Vijay a check.

Shipnuck: Yes, it’s a tragedy it got settled because the courtroom testimony woulda been soooo juicy.

Bamberger: Exactly. Vijay’s pockets are deep, but the Tour had a bottomless pit for a legal defense fund. I guess it had to go this way. What a shame.

4. Damon Green said he was “shocked” when Zach Johnson said they needed to split after nearly 15 years (and two major wins) together. But Green has landed on another bag already, and he’ll begin with Ollie Schniederjans at the Sony Open. Schniederjans, a former No. 1-ranked amateur, has yet to win on Tour. How much can a veteran caddie help out a pro struggling to break through: a little, or a lot?

Sens: A lot. Not only in the actual caddying work they do, but in the psychological benefits that can come from having someone who has been there before on your bag.

Dethier: We’ve seen recent examples of established players going with buddies or family members and having some success, but with a younger player trying to break through this seems wise. I can’t speak to Green’s specific caddying skills, but I know this: there’s no situation he’ll come across that will surprise him.

Ritter: New face, fresh voice, innovative ideas..all those things can be a jolt to recreational players. No reason a veteran caddie couldn’t help any Tour pro. No surprise that Green quickly found work.

Shipnuck: Depends on the player, and the caddie. I like this move for young Ollie. But hopefully he negotiated a no-bird dance clause.

Bamberger: A little, leaning to more. If a veteran caddie can help a kid keep cool in intense heat, that means a lot. But that’s asking a lot too.

Ollie Schniederjans takes a swing and watches his ball.
Ollie Schniederjans will have a new caddie come Sony Open week.

5. Our Josh Berhow recently visited the golfiest airport spot around, complete with simulators, a putting green, a massive lounge area and food and drink to boot. What’s been your most unexpected — but well-received — golf encounter while traveling?

Sens: Traveling in Brazil some years ago, I came across Japeri Golf Club, a little nine-holer in a poor suburb of Rio, a course all but hand-carved by a group of caddies who looped at a posh Rio club. It’s a pretty amazing place, well captured by Jeff Ritter in a film. Worth checking out.

Ritter: Appreciate that, JS. Your royalties check should arrive just in time for the holidays. Another underrated nine-holer: Cavendish on the Island of Lanai. While most commodities on that island are pricey, “the Dish” is free — but you can make a donation in a box near the first tee before enjoying a quick round in the sun.

Dethier: As Sean Zak and I drove to Augusta last year, a “country club” sign caught our eye in an unlikely locale — a tiny town in rural South Carolina. Nine dollars, cart included! It was a valuable reminder of all the things golf can be that have nothing to do with the Masters.

Shipnuck: Years ago I played Sheshan Golf Club in Shanghai and hit a 17-degree hybrid out of the rental set like a God — three eagle putts! I insisted on bringing it home with me. Carrying it through the Beijing airport at least a dozen people — mostly Chinese — came up and wanted to inspect and/or waggle it. I had no idea one golf club could be such a cross-cultural ice breaker.

Bamberger: I once saw one of Alan’s books in an airport bookstore. That was nice. It was binding out when I arrived but not when I left.

6. Davis Love III and Dru Love teamed up to shoot a tournament-record 56 and win the PNC Father-Son Challenge on Sunday. Of course, playing a scramble format, these scores can go low in a hurry. Which current duo of tour players, regardless of country, would be the most lethal scramble team?

Sens: Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari. As the U.S. team found out in France.

Ritter: Speaking on behalf of Team USA: too soon, Josh. Too soon.

Dethier: Dustin Johnson and Jason Day — the best driver and the best putter.

Shipnuck: Spieth and Reed. They’ll grind like crazy, just to prove a point to each other, and the world.

Bamberger: Tony Finau and Lexi Thompson.