Is Rickie Fowler an underachiever?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Kevin Sutherland won the PGA Tour Champions Schwab Cup by winning the final leg of the playoffs for his first and only win of the season. That compares to Bernhard Langer who won seven times this year including three of the five majors and set a Tour record for earnings with $3.6 million. Is there something wrong with the system when Sutherland’s lone win can eclipse Langer’s brilliant season?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I watched it for a while and was scratching my head just as hard as I do with the FedEx Cup maze, when Steve Sands seems to be the only human on the planet who can figure it out.  No doubt making the Schwab Cup up for grabs down to the wire added suspense and kept viewers watching commercials, but it kinda made the whole Race to the Charles Schwab Cup redundant, didn’t it?  Still, it was nice to see a journeyman catch lightning in a bottle when it mattered.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Absolutely ridiculous, yes there’s something wrong with the Cup. How can Langer have that kind of season and not end up on top compared to a guy that wins once? I don’t like it, and I have no doubt, like the Fed-Ex, they’ll re-evaluate this scenario and make some changes for 2018.

TJ Rule, GolfAwayTours (@GolfAwayTJ): Yeah, it doesn’t seem fair, but at the same time, they need to make the final tournament mean something, so there has to be a way for others to win the title entering the final week.  I’m sure Bernhard can console himself with his millions in earnings this year.  And he’ll still be player of the year, for whatever that’s worth!

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): That system definitely needs to be tweaked. What’s the point of even calling it a year-long race if the points keep getting reset in the playoffs? Langer won seven times and had 16 top 10s in 21 starts this past season, while Kevin Sutherland hadn’t won in four years! There should be an asterisk on that cup next to 2017.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: There is so much wrong with this new-found fixation with season-ending phony dramas — the FedEx, the Race to Dubai, the CME, the Oldtimer’s Spittoon — but Sutherland taking any grand prize for one win should just point the magnifying glass on these charades. They are only of interest to the players cashing checks and one suspects less so for their sponsors with each passing yawn. Sutherland? Wow, talk about star power. At least the poor saps bussed in from the local retirement homes and parked outside the ropes had a chance to recognize Langer. The Senior’s Tour should have too.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): That playoff format was like when you were a kid playing road hockey and your team is up about 30-1 and a player on the other side says, “OK, next goal wins.” Sure they have to inject some excitement into the final event but there has to be another way. That was embarrassing.

There’s a lot of chatter again about Rickie Fowler being an underachiever, mostly for his failure to capture the Mayakoba Classic when he had a chance. To his credit, Fowler has four career victories and $30 million in earnings. Kevin Sutherland only had one win his entire career on the PGA Tour while racking up over $15 million and Charles Howell has pocketed more than $34 million with just two victories. Are they all underachievers because they didn’t win a lot even though they cashed many cheques?

Deeks: Not underachievers at all.  Just to get to the PGA Tour, and stay there, means you’re an exceptionally fine golfer — and not just in physical skill.  You’ve got to be focused, dedicated, hard-working, disciplined, and mentally tough to play PGA Tour golf.  That said, however, it’s the notches on your belt that determine your ranking, your peer respect, and ultimately, your place in history.  Does anybody believe Kevin Sutherland is a better player than Bernhard Langer?  Hardly.  Will anybody ever think Rickie Fowler was a better player than Jordan Spieth?  Not without a lot more Fowler victories, they won’t.

Loughry: If you look at Sutherland and Howell, they were playing with and against some of the BEST ALL TIME. Tiger was winning at a 33% clip, and Mickelson rocked up 40+ wins. Fowler, I think it’s still a little early to peg him as a career under achiever. The man has talent, but fields are so deep these days, I think its going to be hard to determine a regular #1 player for the next 5-10 years as a result of that. I think wins will be spread out between more players. Where Rickie will shake out at the end, I’m not sure.

Rule: Absolutely.  It all comes down to wins when you measure someone’s success on tour.  There’s plenty of cash to go around, which is why their career earnings numbers are outrageous.  But if you ever talk about someone being a great player, or mention them in Hall of Fame discussions, it always comes down to victories, and some guys are good finishers, others not so much.  I wouldn’t put Ricky in that group yet though, he’s young enough to win a ton of events in his career.  He didn’t play poorly on Sunday, he just got beat, no shame in that.

Kaplan: I don’t think underachievers is accurate. More like severely overrated! And no one is more overrated than Rickie Fowler. The guy has only won four PGA Tour events in eight years on the circuit. Justin Thomas won more tournaments than that this past season! I’m tired of all of this talk about how Rickie Fowler is one of the elite players in the game. Elite players win! Fowler simply does not.

Quinn: Love watching that tourney because I love the Mayakoba course and the resort. Next time I win the lottery, we’re all going. Oh ya, Rickie and those guys. I don’t think players like Howell 3 (I met his dad, CH2, and asked him about the pretentious family numerology. He didn’t think it was pretentious. Hmmm.) are underachievers. Guys like CH3 didn’t have the Major gene, so they achieved a lot in terms of cash. Not sure Fowler has the gene either, but he sure looked like he did at Sawgrass. The clock is definitely ticking though. If he doesn’t win something important soon, he’s just another one of the ATMs, which is quite an achievement in itself.

Mumford: It seems almost every week someone in this space acknowledges how hard it is to win on the PGA Tour. The fact that Charles Howell has managed to accumulate $34 million in career earnings is proof that he’s in the mix enough to give himself lots of chances. I’m sure he’d love a few more pieces of hardware but nobody in the Howell household is thinking that Chuck is an underachiever. As for Fowler, his problem is that he’s been over-hyped, not under-achieved. He’s probably right about where he should be in terms of wins.

With all of the 2017 seasons over except for the LPGA, which winds up this week, it’s time for All-Star selections. First up are the broadcasters. Which individuals make your All-Star Team in any capacity? And who’s passed their Best Before date?

Deeks: Among the male broadcasters, only Frank Nobilo, Peter Jacobsen, and Paul Azinger do a great job, in my opinion.  Jacobsen is sorely wasted in a tower, but I suspect he’s got too many things going on in his life to devote himself full-time to broadcasting. Frankly, I think ALL of the rest of them — Nantz, Faldo, Kostis, Koch, Feherty, Miller, Hicks, Buck, Pepper, et al, are old and boring… and that’s said by someone who’s even older and more boring than they are: me.  The all-time worst, most annoying golf broadcaster in history, though, has to be Gary McCord.  I LEAP across the room to find the remote to hit MUTE when I hear his voice.  On women’s golf, Karen Stupples adds some rare insight to LPGA broadcasts.  And I’m counting the days until Laura Davies decides she’s past her prime and joins a broadcast team… how refreshing will she be: “I luv Lexi… she bombs the ball like I did in me prime, but she putts like sh*t, like I did, too!”

Loughry: All Star: David Duval. I wasn’t sure he’d settle in but I really enjoy his commentary. Nobilo, again great insight and just pure class. And you know who is actually pretty damn good for such a rookie? Jim BONES Mackay. Again, good insight with the odd story. PAST: Johnny Miller. I’ve never loved him and he just seems to get more on my nerves these days. I use the mute button most on him when watching. A close second is Chambla-blah blah (Brandel Chamblee)…ugh, there goes my mood.

Rule: I’ve always been a David Feherty fan, so he captains my All-Star team.  He would be joined by Ian Baker-Finch and Frank Nobilo in the “not-flashy-but-effective” category, and Peter Alliss and Mike Tirico in the “don’t-see-enough-but-love-their-work” category.  As for those that have passed their Best Before date?  Brandel Chamblee has now worked his way into that category.  I liked him for a while, now he’s just annoying.

Kaplan: David Feherty and Johnny Miller are the only two broadcasters making my all-star team because Feherty is a goof and Miller is a crusty old man and they both make me laugh. Joe Buck is way past his due and needs to be replaced ASAP and Gary Koch’s voice just makes me irritable these days. If I never heard another call from either of those guys, I’d be a happy man.

Quinn: Last part first. There has to have been a ‘best’ before you can have a ‘best before.’ Johnny Miller was best before he got in the booth. This year, not the wrap-around season, the best in the booth for me — the only ones who don’t have me lunging for the mute button — are Judy Rankin (wonderful) and Tom Abbott. And my all-star out on the course is Jerry Foltz, with Roger Maltbie the 2nd team all-star. It is LPGA Tour heavy, but all the other guys on the men’s tour constantly talk over each other and interrupt while adding nothing in the way of insight or information, and Holly Saunders and Juli Inkster and Dottie Pepper are beyond description. There is a Scottish woman on PGA Tour radio – can’t recall her name – who is brilliant. Had I her name, she would be on the top of the list.

Mumford: Some of the broadcasters on the European Tour are brilliant. Occasionally they just stop talking and let you watch. What a refreshing concept! My All-Star team has to include Frank Nobilo and Paul Azinger who both appear to think about their comments before their gums start flapping. I’ve always been a Miller fan too – I mean Johnny, not the watered down beer. As for someone who should be relegated to a bench under a shade tree, there’s a long list of on-air personalities that have spent too long in the sun. Mark Rolfing would be first to go.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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