At first glance, Rickie Fowler seemed the perfect candidate to join LIV Golf.
His game has declined yet he remains one of the more popular players in the world. He's 33 and he and his wife, Allison Stokke, had their first child in November.
But Fowler has resisted the league, funded by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, offering him more money than he would ever see by remaining loyal to the PGA Tour. He is not Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed and others who made their bones on the tour and then threw away everything they once stood for in a money grab. Which is their right, but comes with a price, especially when it comes to each's legacy.
Sure, he would have fit in with many of the other 30-plus LIV golfers whose games are on the back nine. And he could have used the defense of wanting to be free to spend more time with family. That is laughable when these golfers are leaving a tour in which they were independent contractors who set their own schedule to join one in which they are employees and locked in for what will be 14 weeks starting in 2023.
Still, Fowler's message has not changed. The Jupiter resident recently told Golfweek's Adam Schupak that the tour "is where I plan to be" and that he thinks "things are in a good place and headed the right way.”
But he also left open a door, as he always has, adding the tour currently is the best place to play "and I’d like to see it continue to be but you can’t expect to stay the same and be the best all the time, if that makes sense.”
Perfect sense for someone not willing to slam that door on his options. And here's why:
Fowler's free fall has been steep. He plummeted from No. 10 in the world in May 2019 to No. 101 in less than two years. After reaching a high of No. 4, he is now No. 173, his lowest ranking in more than 12 years. His last win was 3½ years ago at the Phoenix Open. He has had four top 10s in his last 63 starts while missing 25 cuts.
The culprit? He said last week it's his putting. In 2017, Fowler led the tour in Strokes Gained: Putting. He currently is 168th.
"I'm just not putting anywhere near what I'm used to or I know I can," he said. "That does a lot with momentum and confidence and freeing you up from the rest of the game, not feeling like you have to necessarily hit it super close to make birdies.
"I've been driving it really well. I think kind of last thing is seeing a few putts go in is really going to free up the rest of the game to kind of start cruising again."
Rickie Fowler hopeful at Honda Classic
Fowler told me at this year's Honda Classic he would have liked to have seen a rebound happen "a little sooner" but "being there with your friends that have gone through it or going through it together, I know they have my back. I've always had their back. It makes it a lot easier when you have people on your side."
Still, Fowler remains appreciative of a game (and a tour) that has allowed him to make generational wealth (more than $41 million in prize money, much more off the course) and continues to be a fan favorite.
And despite continually searching to reestablish his game — he recently parted ways with his caddie of 13 years, Joe Skovron — Fowler remains upbeat and still willing to play against the best in the world.
But for how long?
Fowler reportedly was in Wilmington, Delaware, Tuesday for a meeting of tour players that lasted more than three hours and was led by Tiger Woods. The subject was how to combat LIV and the momentum it has gained in such a short time.
And Fowler likely had plenty to say considering his comments to Golfweek.
“I’ve told the tour and (Commissioner Jay Monahan) when I’ve met with them that I don’t think they have handled it very well at all," he said. "A lot of the stuff that has happened in the last six months to a year and is starting to happen, to me they are reacting to it versus when the talks of Premier Golf League and LIV came about is when they should have been proactive and gotten in front of it.”
Fowler added he is encouraged by the tour increasing purses and revamping its schedule.
“(LIV) may bring potentially new audiences in just because it’s different. At the same time, it’s not what golf has always been,” Fowler said. “If there was a perfect world, there would be a way to coexist because to me they are very different things.”
But if it never coexists, will Fowler continue to resist the lure of LIV? Sounds like that will depend on the PGA Tour.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Rickie Fowler supports PGA Tour but not closing door on LIV Golf