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  • Writer's pictureIan Hyde-Lay


Easter Sunday 1969, a few months after my 11th birthday. The date crystal clear in my memory. Shiny clubs, a starter set comprised of a 3 wood, four irons and a putter, wait in a black golf bag by the front door. A brief and intense love affair with a new sport is about to begin.

I make rapid progress. Pinecones, an endless supply available under the huge fir trees on the edge of our property, double as practice balls. Hours on end, my hands raw, I launch them off a ledge into the back portion of the neighbour’s garden.

Eventually, I graduate to the local municipal course. School holiday breaks a dream, as I practice and play every day from dawn to dusk. Am forced to deal with some failure and plenty of exasperation. However, for several years, at least until I leave town for university, a homemade swing and natural rhythm serve me well.

These days, I still play, but only occasionally. And not well. Once or twice each round, the distinctive click of a sweetly struck shot provides a fleeting reminder of how I once could hit the ball. Otherwise, a wretched collection of smothered hooks, sliced irons, fluffed chips and far too many three putts wreak extensive damage on the scorecard.

Nonetheless, as a sportaholic, I continue to follow closely the professional golf tours and their members. The Canadians in particular. Amazingly, in 2023, five have already won PGA and LPGA tournaments, with a sixth a hard luck playoff loser. This list includes Nick Taylor, who, in spectacular circumstances, captures our National Open. The first home grown player to do so in 69 years.

Still, along with countless others, I also observe the trials, tribulations, and recovery of Rickie Fowler.

The swashbuckling American, following a glittering amateur and collegiate career, gains full PGA status in 2010. Immediately, 22 years old and flashing his trademark orange outfits, he becomes a real fan favourite, not to mention a corporate and social media darling.

And he can play. A flat, looping swing, an aggressive mindset, and a delicious short game combine neatly as he soon captures several tour titles. 2014 is particularly memorable, as he places top five, twice as runner-up, in each of that season’s major championships.

He further represents USA in multiple Ryder and President’s Cups. Wins the prestigious 2015 Players Championship. Less than a year later he reaches fourth place in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Alas, slowly at first, but then in a dizzying decline, his game and performances spiral downwards. A 2019 victory in Phoenix notwithstanding, he goes event after event without recording a top-10 finish. Misses multiple cuts. His ball striking stats plummet to all time lows, while his trusty putter equally misbehaves.

It is stunning, never mind brutal, to watch. A supremely talented operator going through a historically bad patch, victim to a complete and ongoing loss of technique, confidence and self-belief. It is unthinkable, but, early in 2022, his world ranking slips outside the top 160.

To his credit, despite the poor play, or perhaps because of it, Fowler soldiers on. Works diligently. Does not duck the criticism and the endless questions about when he might break out of the prolonged and painful slump. A former coach provides both some tough love and a mental boost. Helps retool his swing.

Finally, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Fowler regains form. Twelve top 20 finishes in his past thirteen tournaments. Seven top 10s. Impressive gains in every statistical category. He roars back up the world rankings. A record breaking 62 to begin the US Open and the 54-hole lead before a few Sunday wobbles. A blistering, career low 60 at the Travelers Championship. Even if, all the while, a cherished tournament victory remains elusive, maddeningly just out of reach.

Finally, the stars align. Four years and five months since his last PGA title, digging himself out from the lowest and most frustrating period of his life, he again reaches the winner’s circle.

The painful drought ends in thrilling style. Down a shot on the final hole of the 2023 Rocket Mortgage Classic, Fowler stuffs a wedge to within two feet to reach a three-man playoff. There, making light of a badly sliced drive, he nails yet another glorious approach to birdie range.

The twelve foot, left to righter never looks like missing.

I admire his initial response as the putt drops. Not for him an overt celebration, no prancing about in ecstasy, no high fiving, no exaggerated fist pumps. Rather, at first he remains still, slightly hunched over. Then stands tall and proud, eyes hidden behind his sunglasses. Alone with his thoughts, arms crossed over the top of his putter.

I wonder what is running through his mind in that moment. Deep satisfaction on a task finally completed? Sheer relief? That hope springs eternal?

Or perhaps he hears the words of George Patton, the irascible and impulsive US Army General who trumpeted “the test of success is not what you do when on top. Instead, success is how high you bounce back after you hit rock bottom.”

And while Fowler is hardly the only person who has rebounded from adversity, his resilience and perseverance are noteworthy. In so doing, he provides a vitally important lesson for all of us.

And there is more, his voice cracking with emotion during a post-round interview. He acknowledges the long and draining struggle to get his golf back in proper working order. Then recognizes especially the love and support of his wife and young daughter during difficult, challenging times.

His final words sum everything up.

“Yeah, winning’s great, but there’s a lot more to life than that” he declares.

Another lesson. Namely, a perfect sense of perspective.


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