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Fowler Thrilled with Breakthrough Win
After accruing all the amateur honors and titles a promising golfer could hope for, Rickie Fowler - along with many fans and observers - embarked on his professional career with high hopes.
But getting that first win wasn't as easy as many thought. Though he's enjoyed several top-10 finishes since turning pro in 2009, the Californian, who enjoyed an All-American career at Oklahoma State, didn't get his maiden victory until Sunday, when he survived a three-way playoff with fellow 23-year-old Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points to win the Wells Fargo Championship in Raleigh.
But Fowler won in dramatic fashion, firing his approach on the water-ringed 18th at Quail Hollow Club to 4 feet and sinking the birdie putt to beat the other two players. For his part, McIlroy was just happy to have a chance in the extra session, and congratulated Fowler, someone who could be one of his prime opponents for years to come.
"I felt like it was a bonus just to get into the playoff after D.A. bogeyed the last, so anyway, I can't - you wouldn't call the 18th today a birdie hole with that pin," said McIlroy, who rose to No. 1 in the latest World Golf Ranking with his T-2 finish. "For Rickie to go out and play that hole the way he did, he deserved to win."
After signing accepting the $1.170 million winner's check, Fowler met with reporters for the following interview session. Here's what he had to say about his breakthrough victory.
MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Rickie Fowler, the 2012 champion of the Wells Fargo Championship. If you want to take us through the last couple holes and then the playoff and then we'll take a few questions.
RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, I was swinging really well all day, and coming down the last few holes, I finally got a glimpse of the leaderboard and knew about where I stood. I didn't want to get a peek of it if I was leading, but it was nice to see that I was tied at the time and knew what was going on. So it was kind of a battle down the finish. I didn't hit a bad drive or that bad of a drive on 16, unfortunately plugged in the front bunker on my second shot, and tried to play a putt that took the break on the par putt and ended up not being the greatest putt of all. Hit some good shots coming in. I thought I hit a really good shot on 18 in regulation, which ended up it took quite a big hop. Didn't think it was going to end up that far behind the hole, which ended up helping us in the playoff. Played a little bit differently, and it worked out all right.
Q. What's your emotions right now, relief or satisfaction or elation or all of the above?
RICKIE FOWLER: Keep going. It's a good feeling right now. Definitely some relief, satisfaction, like you said. I'm definitely happy. It's not a bad thing, winning. It's kind of fun. It'll take a bit for it to sink in. Obviously there's a lot of people that have helped me out through the years, and going through and thanking them one by one is going to take a bit, but I've already thought of a few, and nice to have my mom and my girlfriend here, and my dad is still probably jumping around at home. He's probably one of the most excited of all of us, and then I've got my coach Barry up above watching us.
Q. Was there ever any moment of doubt as to whether or when this was going to happen, just stay the course and hope for the best?
RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, it was just more when. I definitely knew I was good enough, and it was just getting everything to come together and stay patient. I felt like I didn't exactly win the tournament on Friday, but I definitely gave myself the opportunity to be where I was today.
Q. Two things, Rickie: Now that you've won, was it weighing on you more than you let on, or were you fairly patient?
RICKIE FOWLER: I definitely felt like I was very patient with it. At times I felt like I pushed a little bit, where like this week I sat back and made sure I got a lot out of the round on Friday, whereas times before I may have gotten a little bit more frustrated and tried to push a little too hard and ended up shooting 76 when I pulled out a 72. Come today I'm four shots back.
Q. Back nine, I guess, how would you compare your emotions or calmness or whatever to say Phoenix, things like that?
RICKIE FOWLER: I felt really comfortable. As times have gone on, sometimes I've been in contention, I've felt like I've been more and more comfortable every time. Today I felt really good. I think a lot of that comes from how well I struck the ball this week and how well I was swinging. So I was able to go out and trust that I was making good swings and I knew that the ball was going to kind of take off in the right direction. That made it a lot easier for me today to sit back, relax and have some fun.
Q. Not many people birdied that 18th hole all day. You hit it to four feet, and D.A. Points was saying you made a swing that was either going in the creek or it was going to be right next to the hole. Talk about the guts that it took to do that.
RICKIE FOWLER: Well, you're playing against two guys that are going to make good swings 97 percent of the time, so I ended up having the number where I was able to take that risk. I hit a pitching wedge in regulation from 141, and it flew just past the hole about 44 or so, and I had 33 this time around. So it was basically a 10 yard gap, which is about what I had between 147 and 51, and Joe, my caddie, made a good call and said if there's any bit of help and you're comfortable hitting 51, it's a perfect club. We went with it, and it turned out perfect. But like D.A. said, if I don't have a little bit of help or don't hit it perfectly, then I land short and I'm in the creek. But playing against those two guys, I know that they're going to make birdie at some point, and I don't want to sit there and try and make pars and stay in it. I wanted to try to I had a good number, and I wanted to make birdie.
Q. Is it fair to say that you played to win?
RICKIE FOWLER: Definitely. You know, I definitely didn't want to play safe. I had a good number, and I was aiming right of the hole with the wind coming out of the right, and if I hit a perfect shot, it comes down right on the stick, and I think we came down just left of it. But no, I hit a perfect shot at the right time, and I was going for it.
Q. Did you know it was good when you hit it?
RICKIE FOWLER: I knew it had a chance, I just had to sit there and wait, because it was a little bit of a gamble. Like I said, we hit the wedge in regulation, which was a little bit further back, and if it came out right and the numbers matched up, 51 should have been perfect, and it was.
Q. Who gave you the best advice about being patient? Any particular person?
RICKIE FOWLER: I wouldn't say anyone in particular. I've had a lot of guys out here, vets and guys that have been around who have obviously won a lot. It's just keep doing what you're doing, you're doing everything right and the time will come, just be patient.
Q. As you're walking up 18 on the playoff hole, what's going on inside of you? You couldn't wait to get up there?
RICKIE FOWLER: I was just trying to stay as serious as possible and know that I still had a lot of work to do. You know, four foot range, it seemed longer, but it's not a gimme. I tried to focus and stay focused as long as I could, and obviously have a little bit of conversation on the green with my caddie and a couple other guys just to keep things light. But no, I tried not to get ahead of myself, focused on the putt, and when I got the time to hit it, just focus on hitting a good putt.
Q. You beat a player in Rory who you'll probably be compared to a lot as years going on, somebody you beat in Korea. What was the dynamic like in the playoff and you guys shook hands on the putting green and had a little chat?
RICKIE FOWLER: We've always had a great camaraderie, been good buddies. You know, I definitely respect him as a player, and I feel like he respects me, as well. Or at least I hope so. But I've had a lot of fun playing against him. We first played against each other at the Walker Cup in '07, and I look forward to playing against him and hopefully having plenty more tournaments like this where we're battling back and forth and there's going to be times where he's going to come out on top and times where I come out on top. I look forward to possibly doing that for a long time.
Q. Speaking of good buddies, you had Ben Crane and Aaron Baddeley waiting for you at the 18th. How did you feel having them there with you and obviously your mom and your girlfriend?
RICKIE FOWLER: Well, I'm bummed Bubba wasn't around. No, it was great to have two of my good buddies out here, Badds and Ben. I'm surprised Ben didn't start dancing around or anything on the green. But it's nice to have the support from fellow players and good friends out here and nice to see some familiar faces waiting there behind the green.
Q. You played well with veterans in recent weeks. I wonder over the last couple years where you feel your biggest focus and improvement has been?
RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, I've played well the last two weeks. I've been hitting the ball well and swinging it well, and I feel like mentally I've been doing all the right things. But the biggest improvement has been course management and patience and kind of staying focused throughout rounds and not letting bogeys and doubles get the best of me and moving on and making the most out of the bad rounds like I did on Friday and focusing on putting together a good week.
Q. No particular part of your physical game that you're focused on?
RICKIE FOWLER: Over the last couple years, short game. I've struggled with some bunker play my first couple years, and I feel like I've put some work in, and I hit some I had a really good bunker shot on 13 that I thought I might have made. Normally a bunker shot will spin to the right for a righty, and it stayed straight, and I ended up having a tap in. I feel like I've gained a lot of confidence there, and I was able to get up and down with ease, whereas it may have been a little bit tougher a couple years ago.
Q. The next time you play in a PGA event, before you tee off you'll be introduced as a Tour winner now as opposed to how many wins your playing partners have had. What will that be like?
RICKIE FOWLER: It's going to be kind of a relief. It's been a wait, but I'm definitely still young, and hopefully this opens the door to many more. But it's nice to be mentioned as a PGA Tour winner. There's still guys with I think Phil has 40 ish?
RICKIE FOWLER: It's still going to be almost like having zero when someone like Phil is getting announced with 40 and I've got one. I've got some work to do. I'd like to have multiple where I can have a little bit of say against guys like that.
Q. Was that something noticeable in the past where if guys had multiple wins? Is that something you were aware of?
RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, definitely. Talking about Phil again, you get to 40, they don't mention all the events, they just say 40. That says it all. Yeah, you get guys who have won two, three, four times and they name the events, and then they say my name and I tee off. Now I've got the Wells Fargo Championship.
Q. Is it too early for there to be a rivalry with Rory, and if it is, what has to happen for it to be in full bloom?
RICKIE FOWLER: Well, obviously we're both still really young compared to I'd say the average age on Tour. We have probably our own little rivalry going, a friendly rivalry the way I look at it. But obviously Phil and Tiger have had a bit of a rivalry, but I think that there's so many good young players right now that it's hard to focus on maybe just Rory and I as a rivalry. I mean, you can name 10 guys and put us all in as a rivalry, and we're all trying to beat each other just as bad as the others. It's kind of hard to pick out just two right now with the amount of guys that have been playing well and guys that have won tournaments.
Q. People will naturally lean toward you two to pick out. Why would that be?
RICKIE FOWLER: Well, Rory is top ranked young player right now, I'm probably the one that sticks out most with color. Now I'm a PGA Tour winner. So I've got some credibility. You still throw you've got guys like Keegan Bradley, who's a major champion, so I feel like there's plenty of guys. It's obviously an honor to be talked about as Rory and I back and forth, but I do feel like there's a lot of guys that deserve some credit that would be part of a rivalry.
Q. Do you think that's the most important thing that came out of today, credibility?
RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, I mean, obviously there's a lot of people that have doubted or said you'll never win or there's all kinds of stuff. So it's nice to kind of shut them up a little bit.
Q. When you imagined winning a Tour event, what did you imagine, and how close is the reality to it?
RICKIE FOWLER: I tried not to think about it too much. I didn't want to get ahead of myself. I wanted to there was times out there today where I started thinking too far ahead and had to pull myself back, and just making sure that I was focusing on what was in front of me and the shot I was about to hit. So yeah, obviously every kid has dreamed about walking up 18 at Augusta and having the putt to win or something like that, but I've tried not to think about it a whole lot recently or when I'm in contention and focus on more what is right in front of me.
Q. When you came out of Oklahoma State, did you think it would be this hard to win out here?
RICKIE FOWLER: I knew it was going to be tough. I came out I put up a fight pretty early, got into a playoff at Fry's my second event out, so I knew I could be in contention, and I knew that I could win out here, it was just putting together whether it be four rounds or being in the right position at the right time. But I knew it was going to be tough. Taking the step from junior golf to college golf or to amateur golf and then from there to the PGA Tour, it's the biggest leap you take, and these are the best players in the world. It's not easy to win out here, so it's nice to have the first one out of the way.
Q. The way you've been marketed so successfully, has it ever felt like a burden?
RICKIE FOWLER: No. I mean, because this is who I am. You know, I haven't let anything I don't want to be anyone who I'm not and don't want to be marketed any way that doesn't represent me. You know, it's been a lot of fun. Obviously I have some great sponsors and a good partnership with Puma, who helped me show who I am on the course. Now we've got the win, so we're good to go.
Q. Are you an emotional person? Did you think to yourself, I was going to cry when I won or I was going to jump up and down, because it seemed relatively even keel.
RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, I try and hold it in as much as I can. It's definitely a lot of emotion. It's a lot of fun winning. But yeah, I didn't I tried not to mention my swing coach Barry a whole lot because that definitely pulls a whole lot out of me. It's nice to have him watching down.
Q. As a follow on Bubba, when you were out there and you were watching Bubba at the Masters and you walked with him, did you feel that inspired you or contributed to today?
RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, definitely, seeing him in contention and his chance to win, it was cool to just kind of sit back and see kind of from right there on the side we weren't exactly inside the ropes but had a front row seat, and just to see how he handled himself, the shots he hit, just to feel the energy, how quiet it gets when they're about to hit a shot or a putt, it's I almost wanted to start talking to Ben or something because it got so quiet. But definitely being around there gave me the kind of want to win more.
MODERATOR: Thank you for your time, Rickie. Good luck at the Players.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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