As the ball dropped into the cup, Rickie Fowler crossed his arms over his putter and looked skyward. A big exhale, a smile, and then – over the shoulder of caddie Ricky Romano – a triumphant raise of his club to a flock of ecstatic fans.
After 1,610 days, golf’s man in orange was back in the winner’s circle.
Triumph at the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Sunday ended the Fowler’s four year wait for a sixth PGA Tour title as the 34-year-old emerged victorious from a three-way playoff at Detroit Golf Club in Michigan.
Having finished level with compatriot Collin Morikawa and Canada’s Adam Hadwin at 24-under overall, Fowler lasered his birdie putt from 11 yards at the first replay of the 18th hole to clinch his first Tour title since the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February 2019.
“It’s just nice to have this one out of the way,” the American later told reporters.
“I’m obviously going to soak this one in and celebrate a bit … it’s been a long road.”
There was a special something – or rather, someone – new at celebrations this time around. An emotional Fowler gave his winner’s interview cradling his daughter Maya, born in November 2021.
She had been at the 18th green to witness the crowning moment with Fowler’s wife Allison Stokke Fowler, a fellow athlete and former pole vault star. The new champion dedicated his win – “the missing link” – to the pair.
“It was tough just because everything else in my life was amazing and then to have the one thing that I obviously love doing … it was kind of the missing link,” Fowler said.
“So to have everything start to click and come together, and obviously all this started prior to Maya being born, it’s been an amazing ride.
“To finally get one finished off, Maya may or may not really ever remember it, but at least we’ll have some special images to help her remember today.”
The route back to silverware has been a grueling one for the Californian. A two-time major runner-up in 2014 and world No. 4 in 2018, Fowler’s ranking gradually dropped following triumph in Arizona in 2019.
By July 2022, he found himself outside the world’s top 150 ranked players for the first time since his rookie season on the PGA Tour 12 years prior.
Yet 2023 has marked a resurgent year for the fan-favorite golfer as eight top-10 finishes in 20 starts have rocketed Fowler back up the rankings. A major title remains elusive, with Fowler’s final day slide at the US Open extending that wait, but the tied-fifth performance in Los Angeles was another indication of a return to form.
Now, he’s world No. 23 and $1.584 million better off after a lucrative winner’s payout.
“You hope the struggles don’t last, but sometimes they last longer than you would hope for,” Fowler said.
“Being that I’ve been one of the best players in the world, plenty of good finishes and wins, I knew what I was capable of, but it’s tough when you’re struggling for that long of a period of time.
“But I knew it wasn’t far off and just kind of had to keep putting the time in, keep grinding, keep pushing. Then started to see some positive results and starting to build some confidence and momentum last fall.”
Near-misses for Hadwin and Morikawa extended the pair’s search for further PGA Tour wins. Hadwin was looking to add to his maiden title at the Valspar Championship in 2017, while Morikawa was hoping to end a two-year wait for his sixth PGA Tour victory.
Morikawa’s last triumph was at the 2021 Open Championship, his second career major win.
The 26-year-old will look to repeat the feat at Royal Liverpool later this month, but on Sunday, he was content to give Fowler his flowers.
“It’s not like this is a one-time thing, he’s been playing phenomenal golf,” Morikawa told reporters.
“People love him. The fans still come out to see him no matter how he’s playing, but he’s been playing well.
“Look how he’s been playing, especially the US Open, the scores he’s been posting last week, it’s awesome. The grind isn’t easy. It never is, doesn’t matter where you are.”