PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – You’ve probably seen the commercials for The Players featuring the defending champion Rickie Fowler where he talks about “Jax Beach, Ponte Vedra and going to Taco Lu.” Having spent time with Fowler since the beginning of his career I can tell you he’s authentic when he says stuff like that. His comfort level at the TPC facility is only ramped up by how he likes coming here. As he said, “I like the vibe.”
“It's definitely special to be back,” Fowler said opening up his press conference this afternoon. “Feels like coming back home. I was here just over a month ago for media day and I got to spend a little time around 16, 17 and 18, and it was fun to go out there and get around the course for the first time since last year.”
In contention last week in Charlotte, Fowler hit two balls in the water coming down the stretch on Sunday to fall a few strokes back. Much different from last year where he played the lights out on the back nine in the final round to force a playoff and then win it.
According to the defending champ, that’s golf.
“If it was an easy game, there would be a lot more people competing at a high level. But I think it's just like any other professional sport in a way; at the highest level it's such a fine line between playing great golf and being just off.”
Playing the same golf course for the same championship only happens every year at Augusta at the Masters when it comes to the Majors. Fowler thinks the TPC Stadium Course is demanding and thinks driving the ball accurately is one of the most important parts of posting a low number. World number one Jason Day said he hits a lot of 3-woods off the tee here to try to be accurate. Fowler took us through his thought process standing on each tee:
“Driver 1, 2, 3-wood on 4, driver 5, 3-wood 6, driver 7, driver 9, 3-wood 10, driver 11, 3-wood 12, driver 14, 15, 16, 18. And we shot 67. We're off to a good start,” he recited going through all 18 holes. “And we shot 67. We're off to a good start,” he deadpanned to laughter among the assembled media.
Perhaps you remember during last year’s players that a poll was published calling Fowler the “Most overrated” player on the PGA Tour. It was laughable then and winning THE PLAYERS made it look silly. He followed that up with wins in Scotland, Boston and Abu Dhabi, opening the floodgates for success. Is it because he put more pressure on himself to win? Actually it’s a question of being comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.
“I don't think you put more pressure. I think you have the expectations. I know after this win last year, just talked about having more confidence and the belief when I was back kind of in contention at the next events, just how comfortable I felt, and it was a lot more fun being back in that situation because I knew what I was up against. I knew I could take care of business,” he explained.
“It's fun winning out here. It's a lot of fun when you get to spend some late Sunday nights in the media center, so I don't know if it's any extra pressure, I think it's just that expectation and you want to get back in that position again.