Trooping The Colours: When Orange and White might be the new Green of The Masters
Rickie Fowler’s heart was never in the final day of the Shell Houston Open. It was as if his double bogey on the eighteenth hole on the third day had sounded his death knell. We didn’t know it or hear it, or want to hear it, and our expectation was that he would come out, fighting fit, on the final day to make a comeback that saw him drop to three behind the leader at the end of the third day of play. It never happened and Rickie’s final “Orange” day was one that left his followers somewhat blue.
That final day was a struggle – with a wild drive on the second that resulted in a double bogey and finding water on the fourth to drop yet another shot – before he found a modicum of form with a few late birdies that saw him close with a seventy to tie for third place with Luke List.
Rickie will tell us it was an alignment problem at the beginning of the final day that caused his bad start and he now believes that he has it sorted and under his control with that late run of birdies as proof.
Which is just as well – for round the corner from that Shell Houston Open experience, we have Augusta, The Masters, and the first major of the season.
The perennial big question bubbling on everyone’s lips is who will be the winner and, to make matters as coherently prognostic as the eventual outcome of Brexit or the reign of President Trump, everyone is coherently united on their lack of common agreement on the nature of the course, the type of play, the skills set required for the win and what player possesses those exact skills at this precise moment in time. In other words, blindfold yourself, spin round three times, and stick a pin in the list of names that form the official field. You will have the same modicum of success as the top pundits with all their rhyme and reason. It will also keep you busy while waiting for the Thursday tee-off.
As Augusta throws open its doors to the great unclean of the everyday world for its annual golf-fest Masters season, the professional players of the golfing world are casting their shadows – like giants on stilts – over the coveted jacket. While nobody rates Danny Willett’s ability to defend his title after an abysmal year that has seen him more weighed down by his win than uplifted, Rory remains hungry and a green jacket short of a grand slam. With the jury still out on Dustin’s ability to finish four rounds and not choke in a major, the nearest thing to agreement from all interested parties seems to be in the form of Jordan Speith, a former Master and expected winner of last year’s title too – until Augusta’s most iconic hole decided to re-assert its trickery and pound out a new chapter in tournament history by scuppering Speith’s chance at a consecutive green jacket. The recent sad events that have unfolded in Jason Day’s private life perhaps preclude him from the win (Jason: big shout out for your mum’s continued recovery and a return to bountiful health.), while Japan holds its breath in wondrous anticipation of their own Matsuyama.
Opinion and banter in the lead up to The Masters is all part of the fun and everyone approaches their choices through hardcore statistics, well-rounded debate and reasoned perspective. I love it but I have never seen much by way of solidly consistent predictions because the mighty course of Augusta takes no prisoners nor respects any pundit’s forecast so, respectfully bowing to the might of the eighteen holes at Magnolia Lane, I am staking my claim to the predictions board and pinning my hopes on little mentioned but ninth ranked golfer on the Official World Golf Ranking list, Rickie Fowler, for the jacket.
I have a thousand reasons to do so but most of all he has my support for all that he brings to golf.
First off the tee then…
He’s hot-to-trot number one in the world of golf fashion stakes. His cleated high-tops, six-pocketed jogger-style “bicycle clip” pants and continuously daring-dazzle outfits have given him an instantly recognisable silhouette, endeared him to the younger generations and sent the die-hard traditionalists into a yellow funk. He puts the fun back into the image of golf apparel and I applaud his efforts, especially when I hear the middle-aged spreaders choking on their words and struggling to commentate on his style.
Driving it down the fairway…
Even if you are not a style icon or have not a thread of interest in the “fashionista” stakes, there is a fistful of facts that form the building blocks to Rickie’s character and make him a positive role model. Although fiercely competitive, he brings the elements of friendship and fun to every tournament. He loves his family and has a strong bond with his grandpa who taught him to play golf and to treat people with respect. Rickie emulates his grandfather’s attitude to life and love of people. He has a Christian faith that is important to him and, for all of Fowler’s “flash” image, he remains old school and grounded. Those who know him first-hand will testify that he was brought up in a humble home where he was never put on a pedestal. Before golf came knocking on his door as a career choice, he was already great at Motocross and it was only a triple fracture that ended that career. Those attributes are the colour of gold.
Crafting the approach shot…
On the threshold of The Masters, Rickie is playing some great golf. February saw him tie for fourth at the Phoenix Open and then win the Honda Classic. In March, he posted a couple of top-16 finishes at the WGC Mexico and the Arnold Palmer Invitational and last week, he finished with a tie for third place at the Shell Houston Open, which augurs well for his form. However, his appearances at previous Masters range from plain cold through medium hot to cool. He failed to make the top twenty-five from 2011 – 2013 but scored a fifth place tie in 2014 in tough scoring conditions. 2015 saw him tie for twelfth place but his last year’s entry failed to make the cut. That first drive looked more like the Flight of The Bumblebee through the Georgia pines and, by the time he’d come up for air, his first round had carded up a massive eighty and he fared not a lot better with a second round of seventy-three. A resoundingly grey start could only sent his 2016 game into oblivion.
Chipping it in for the pin…
There are a number of right-to-left doglegs at Augusta National and that necessitates being able to hit a draw. Rickie drives it straight but his flat swing and shallow connection with the ball allow him to do just that when the need arises. Putting in fluctuating green speeds will also be a key factor and reigning in any overly aggressive tendencies on medium length putts, especially when the greens are running fast, will be an issue that Rickie will have to take control of but, if stats are what floats your boat, Rickie’s tee-to-green game is fourth on the PGA Tour and his putter is at ninth in strokes gained putting. He is in the pink with these current stats.
Putting it out there for the win…
But the icing on the cake that makes Rickie the perfect choice for me is all to do with the colour scheme.
First and foremost, I’m Irish and I am all for an Irish Master. My representatives for the coveted green jacket are Lowry and McIlroy. I am not banking on Shane for a green keepsake and, although Rory is sporting a relaxed attitude and a fresh approach after weeks of incapacity, he remains a flaky putter and will struggle with those Augusta yellow-flagged pins at some point. He is not my reliable white knight.
Secondly, I’m English – having lived a greater number of years in the UK than I’ve lived in Ireland – and there is only one player for me whose game is admirably suited to Augusta National. His name is Justin Rose. This is his twelfth start and he has an excellent record of finishing in the Top Ten, apart from his first ever visit which resulted in a 39th place, but short-game issues still remain and I cannot see him entering a purple patch in time to take this Masters. Besides which, I celebrated in all shades of red, white and blue last year when Danny did us proud.
So next available on the colour spectrum has to be Rickie. Those of you who are hot on the study of vexillology will have worked out the connection by now.
Arnie wore pink, Tiger red, Player black, and orange – aggressive red made more personable by yellow – is Rickie’s chosen colour. He usually pairs his orange top with white trousers on the final day.
As he dons the green jacket at the end of the fourth day, I, for one, will laud an American Master aesthetically dressed in the Irish tricolour. Flag it up and troop those colours, Rickie. It’s your time to shine and the closest I am likely to come to an “Irish” win in The Masters 2017.