Rickie Fowler did not have to do this. After the double disappointment of losing The Barclays and squandering an automatic spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, he did not have to meet the public, especially since one loud fan might have ruined his last chance for a decent day.
Still, there he was, signing dozens of autographs outside the Bethpage State Park clubhouse — putting a postscript on an awful ending.
“Get ‘em in Boston,” said a fan who knows where the FedExCup playoffs head next.
“Rick-ee Fow-ler” a few people sang, in the manner of the roll call from the Yankee Stadium bleachers, reprising a ditty that had been heard all over Bethpage Black Sunday.
“Good luck in Hazeltine, man,” said yet another well-wisher, possibly hitting a raw nerve.
Fowler could have qualified Sunday to play next month in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, if he had finished third or better in The Barclays. But the same back-nine collapse — three bogeys, a double-bogey and a birdie — that cost him a share of first place in the final round of the tournament also knocked him out of the top eight on the U.S. Ryder Cup list. And Sunday was the deadline to finish among the top eight and qualify on points.
He still could have made it with a birdie on No. 18, which would have tied him for second in this tournament. That hope went out the window with a bad drive into the deep right rough, as someone shouted during his swing. “It was a little loud up there on 18 tee,” he said with a slight grin that signified “No hard feelings” after he made bogey to finish tied for seventh at 6 under.
The atmosphere was raucous at the Black Course and mostly fun. There were some very nice touches, such as the love shown all day for Justin Rose, who evoked a roar on the 18th green when he took his Olympic gold medal out of his bag and wore it around his neck. “It’s been a fun walk. Playing with Phil [Mickelson] in New York, it’s hard to get your fair share of shouts, but I got my share because of this,” Rose said, pointing to the medal.
Then again, let’s just say that, given pavilions named for the likes of Michelob and Grey Goose, it was not hard to avoid being thirsty out there. Some of the noise was over the top.
In any case, the ending was somber for Fowler. “If I focus on winning the golf tournament, things would be fine,” he said. The troubling part is that it is a trend. He is 0-for-4 with a 54-hole led in PGA Tour events. Almost every time he faced a crucial shot down the stretch, he made a poor one. “Just made some not-so-good swings at a bad time,” he said after another rough Sunday in an unfulfilling season.
All of that notwithstanding, he probably is a lock for the team. The other United States players like him. So does captain Davis Love III, who gets to pick four players to fill out the squad.
Given what we saw Sunday, and all spring and summer, I’m not so sure that is a good idea. Fowler is the guy you want as your buddy, your neighbor, a guy in your foursome. I never will forget seeing him at a youth clinic at Huntington Crescent Club before the 2012 Barclays, giving encouragement and individual instruction to every kid. I also give him points for signing all those caps and souvenir flags. I’m not convinced he is the right answer for a U.S. team that needs a karma makeover after years of being dominated by Europe.
I also will say that, in his own way, he did prove to be a decent finisher. The kids who got Rickie Fowler autographs went home happy. And Fowler probably will go to Hazeltine. On top of that, The Barclays will move on in good health, with a new name, to Glen Oaks next year. The Black Course will reopen to the public Saturday. All in all, not a bad ending.