Rickie Fowler had some of the best stats on the PGA Tour in 2017 - so we asked about how he's gone about improving his accuracy
From growing up on his local driving range in California to becoming one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour, Rickie Fowler puts a lot of his more recent success down to working with coach Butch Harmon for the past three years.
Since Fowler hired Harmon in 2014, the 28-year-old American has won five tournaments across both European and PGA Tours, including his victory at the Players in 2015 – but it hasn't all been smooth sailing. In 2014 Fowler finished in the top five of each of the four Majors, but by the end of 2016 he had hadn't managed better than T33 in all four Major-starts, and failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup play-offs – so Harmon told him he needed to take his golf more seriously.
"We had a big conversation at the end of the year last year, and he didn't like it," Butch told Sky Sports. "I said, 'You gotta decide are you going to be a Kardashian or are you going to be a golf pro?" You're the king of social media, you're all over these Snapchats and all these things. You need to reach down and grab your ears and get your head out of your you know what and get back to work, get your body in shape."
"He's got a trainer he works out tremendously with and he's worked unbelievable with his golf swing. He's gone back to winning tournaments again – get rid of those Kardashians."
Since then, Fowler has refocused and with a victory and eight other top five finishes in the 2016/2017 season he has become ranked in the top two on the PGA Tour for scoring average, strokes gained in putting, scrambling from the fringe and sand saves.
We caught up with Rickie at the Scottish Open at Dundonald Links, where he told us that working on the fundamentals and staying consistent in practice is the key to accuracy on the course.
You have some of the best performance stats on the PGA Tour, what do you think has helped you become a much more accurate and consistent player?
I've been playing well this year, everything has been trending in the right direction. I feel like I've done a really good job of continuing to work on the little things and the fundamentals, making sure that I'm not too far off of where I want to be swing wise, so Butch and I are always staying on top of that to make sure it's in the right spot and right tempo. His son Claude helps me out a bit, too, and then I've got my caddie Joe, who has a great eye, so I feel like I've got a great group of people who help keep me in line.
You have one of the best scoring averages on the PGA Tour; is there a secret to how you practise?
Right now, I really don't spend a whole lot of time on the range. I much prefer spending my time playing and putting myself in real situations. If I find something that's feeling a little bit off, or needs work, or if I'm not playing well, I'll work on that either after the round or the next day for 30 minutes to an hour. It's not about the amount of time you put in. It's the quality of it.
And if something is a bit off, how do you go about sorting that?
Butch and I typically go right back to basics with everything and then try to come up with the answer. Alignment, posture, swing length and contact will take care of a lot.
What do you work on a lot?
Tempo, timing. Nothing ruins your timing like bringing the club back too far and too fast. To keep my backswing nice and compact, I try to feel width – that my hands are far away from my body. Wide swings also tend to be shorter and smoother.
How do you stay consistent when you're on the course and not feeling on your A-game?
I don't try and change much, I usually just try to adjust and let it happen. The more I force it, the more it can all go wrong so I really just try not to force it then I'll go and work on it after the round.
Does where you are on the leaderboard determine how aggressive you are?
Yes, I definitely play the course differently depending on where I am on the leaderboard. Depending on the situation, there are times where your position allows you to play a course or a hole more aggressively.
Rickie won his fourth PGA Tour title at the Honda Classic in February
How do you approach strategy on the course and decide those percentage plays into greens?
For me, distance is a huge advantage out there, but being in the short grass is key. There are definitely times I will take less club off the tee to make sure I'm in the fairway, to avoid hazards, but sometimes the gamble is worth it to push it a bit further up so then I'll go for it. I'd never want to be too far back, though.
Do you change strategy when you play different courses?
A little bit. When I play over here on links courses I really just try to avoid bunkers off the tee, as it can be close to being a one-shot penalty. I'll try to play to a wider part of the fairway or try to take out the hazards. Sometimes you might have a harder or longer shot into greens, but the last place you want to be is in the bunker off the tee.
To help amateurs improve their accuracy, what would you suggest?
Getting out there and playing is key. But if they are looking for accuracy, they've got to practise from inside 150 yards. That's where they tend to lose shots.
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You're ranked first for sand saves on the PGA Tour; what is your key to getting it close from the bunker?
I've put in a lot of work with Butch over the last few years. There are a handful of keys that I have, like making sure I have a really solid stance. I think everyone has a bit of a different technique, but it all comes down to the main fundamentals, confidence and just really working at it.
Is there a different preparation for you mentally for Majors, or is it just the same process?
I think a lot of guys possibly make it different. But myself and my team try to make it as normal as another event. I feel like guys will spend some more time on the golf course or more time than they would at a normal Tour event. So I've gone to trying to play nine holes Monday, nine holes Tuesday and 18 holes Wednesday. Just like I would a normal event; you play a pro-am Wednesday and lead into the golf tournament.
Four things Rickie Fowler does that can help your game
One of the big things is making sure I've got a good rhythm and tempo, really trying not to get too quick. Getting a little bit quick at the top is one of my tendencies, so I'm always working on that with Butch.
I can get a little bit quick, so one of my main focuses before a shot is I just have to make sure I complete my turn with my shoulders and to make sure there's not a quick change in direction at the top.
When To Be Agressive
It really depends on what my position is. You want to be in the short grass off the tee, but I tend not to be as aggressive at the pin with a longer club as I am with a 9-iron in my hand.
What I Work On
Keeping a good tempo. I'd also say the grip is a huge thing for me at the moment to try to get consistent, so that I'm able to start the ball off in the right position and make it do what I want it to do.
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