DUBLIN, OHIO — Teenagers wearing his caps in Crayola colors lined the fence beside the scorer’s cabin at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
Inside was their Puma Pied Piper, perhaps the only person capable of erasing the stigma of jailhouse orange, his choice of Sunday best, no less. Only he was dressed in bright emerald green, right down to the shoes, not yet available to young golfers watching at home.
“I think this style should be out later this summer,” Rickie Fowler said.
A victory or two for the 2010 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year should solve that problem.
A Fowler orange crush (FYI, the color of his Oklahoma State Cowboys) would also fill the void on the PGA Tour with Tiger Woods sidelined, first by scandal and divorce, now by injury. While international players are dominating the world rankings and gobbling up the major championships, Fowler is the next great American hope.
At the moment, there are others with better credentials. Dustin Johnson has won four times in his career and held the 54-hole lead at last year’s U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson and Nick Watney have three victories apiece. Fans root for Johnson and Watson because they’re big boppers. Mahan is married to a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. Watney’s cousin is former Miss California runner-up Heidi Watney, a Boston Red Sox on-field reporter.
None of them have more of the “it” factor than Fowler.
A former dirt bike rider, Fowler had the audacity to turn his cap backward in the interview room on Tuesday at the Masters Tournament this April, only to have Augusta National member Ron Townsend reach over and turn it forward. Fowler, 22, said he wanted people to see his face, but Townsend would have none of it.
After Fowler shot a 4-under-par 68 on Thursday in the first round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club to trail leaders Rory McIlroy and Chris Riley by 2 shots, Fowler’s cap was back where it belonged — backward.
“It’s easier for me to interact,” Fowler said. “You guys can actually see my face. When I’m out signing autographs people are able to see my face. I don’t want to hide.”
A breath of color in a too-khaki world, Fowler has the game to go with the charisma.
In 49 career events, he has recorded 11 top 10s and 18 top 25s. He made last year’s Ryder Cup team. He’s finished second three times — at the Frys.com Open in 2009 and at the Phoenix Open and the Memorial in 2010.
Last year at Muirfield Village, Fowler was tied for the first-round lead and held the top spot alone after the second and third rounds.
With Ohio State golf coach Donnie Darr (who recruited him as an Oklahoma State assistant) as his caddie, Fowler didn’t falter until the par-3 12th on Sunday, when he hit into the water and double-bogeyed, ending a streak of 48 holes where he held at least a share of the lead.
Woods, America’s last great star, won all over the world but racked up millions at a favored few courses, like his seven victories at Firestone Country Club. Muirfield could be that kind of place for Fowler.
He hopes so, especially as he presses for his first victory.
“I have some high goals for myself,” Fowler said. “One of my main goals this year was to work on getting my first win. I haven’t been in contention a whole lot. I’m trying to step up. I want to be the best player in the world at some point. We just have a little bit of work to do.”