PGA: Fowler could rid himself of label as best golfer without a major

By Art Spander

ST. LOUIS — The label is a blessing and a curse: Best golfer never to have won a major. For so long it belonged to Phil Mickelson, who went years and 46 tournaments before escaping it at the 2004 Masters.

Now, for better or worse, it has been assigned to Rickie Fowler.

What it means, of course, is he’s a hell of a player. What it also means is that he doesn’t have a victory in any of the four tournaments that give a man a spot in history.

Second? Yes, Fowler has been runner-up in three of the four, including this year’s Masters. And a third in the other, the PGA.

But we’re talking firsts, like the 18 of Jack Nicklaus, the 14 of Tiger Woods. We’re talking about beating everyone in the field and not beating yourself up over the mistake that proved costly.

The cliché is that if a golfer is in contention enough times he’ll break through. After Thursday’s opening round of the 100th PGA Championship, Fowler is there once more. He shot a 5-under-par 65 at Bellerive Country Club.

But where will he be on Sunday afternoon?

It’s always the elephant in the room for Fowler, the unavoidable subject: Is this the week? Not that the journalists who confronted the 29-year-old Fowler had the temerity to ask that question point blank. They wondered if he knows how long Mickelson needed for his first major. Or if Rickie’s low round had him excited or worried.

“I’m definitely happy,” he explained, but then fell back on old golf logic. “You can’t win the tournament on Thursday, but you definitely can take yourself out of it and lose it, so we took care of what we needed to take care of today.”

He wasn’t playing with a partner. But like some of the other younger players, he affects the plural. Jordan Spieth is another who chooses to say “we” instead of “I.” Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said the use of “we” should be restricted to editors, monarchs and people with worms?

Fowler grew up in Murrieta, Calif., maybe an hour and half east of Los Angeles, and raced dirt bikes. He earned a golf scholarship to Oklahoma State, and on weekends at tournaments he often wears the school’s orange and black.

The plan Thursday was to dress in blue. But the death from cancer 24 hours earlier of the Australian tour pro Jarrod Lyle, a close friend of Fowler’s, was reason enough for Rickie to wear yellow, Australia’s national color, to celebrate Lyle’s life.

“It’s been fun thinking about him while we’re out there playing,” Fowler said, referring to Lyle, “because he probably would be the one to kind of kick you in the butt it you started feeling sad or bad. He would give you a hard time.”

The golf critics have given Fowler enough of a hard time. He was the No. 1 amateur in the world for 37 weeks during 2007-08, and when he turned pro the expectations were overwhelming — and possibly intimidating. He was PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2010, and yet there’s that lack of a major victory.

“You can’t force the issue,” said Fowler, who then reverted to the plural adding, “and it relates to some of our game plan and how we’re going about this week. I don’t have to play special to win.”

Fowler is a professed St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, and that hasn’t hurt the way he’s been received by the fans, who were out in force on a steamy day when the temperature reached 90.

“I feel I have a great following with people having some ties to Oklahoma State. I feel there’s some kind of a Midwest connection, and definitely being a Cardinals fans and supporter, it’s great to be here and feel the love.”

What he hopes to feel is the trophy and the elation of a win in a major.

“It’s not necessarily something I worry about,” he said. “Keep getting in contention. We’ll just keep beating down that door.”

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