If you’re looking for a darkhorse to win the 101st PGA Championship that begins Thursday at Bethpage Black, 10th-ranked Rickie Fowler has a track record that suggests he has what it takes to win his first major even though the 5-9 golfer doesn’t fit the power-hitter mold of favorites like Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and defending champion Brooks Koepka.
Fowler missed the cut in the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage but improved to 24th in the 2012 Barclays PGA Tour playoff event and was the third-round leader in the 2016 Barclays before fading to a seventh-place tie. Fowler ranks 106th in driving accuracy, which might be a problem, but he’s 30th in driving distance, 45th in shots gained tee to green and seventh in shots gained putting, which might give him a leg up on Bethpage’s fast greens.
Fowler agrees there will be a premium on power at the 7,459-yard venue but said on Wednesday that it’s a fair setup he has proven he can handle. “I feel like I’m a good driver of the golf ball,” Fowler said. “That’s definitely going to be a big key this week. I also feel like I’m a great long-iron player, and you’re going to need some long irons here.
“The big thing I’ve been focusing on is just driving the ball well. I’ve done that here, I’ve played well here, I have a good track record here.”
Earlier this week, Brandt Snedeker said the superb condition of the greens might bring some of the better putters into the mix of championship contention. But as Jordan Spieth said, there might be times when a hot putter is needed just to save par.
“The greens are probably the best I’ve seen them here,” Fowler said. “They seem to be in great shape even with how much water they’ve gotten over the last couple weeks.
“But if you don’t drive it well, it’s going to be hard to get around this golf course. You’re going to have to take your medicine out of the rough a lot of times, hit it back in the fairway and try to get it up and in.”
Fowler said the PGA does a great job of course setup but might need to move up the tees on No. 10 and No. 12, two par fours longer than 500 yards, because it can be tough to reach the fairway, depending on the wind.
“It’s a big golf course,” Fowler said. “You’ve got to take care of the par-fives when you get a chance, and there’s not very many birdie holes out there. You’re trying to make a lot of pars.
“You’ve got to be disciplined and make good swings to stay away from making bogeys and more. It will be a good test this week.”