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May 8, 2018

Rickie Fowler

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

JOHN BUSH: We'd like to welcome Rickie Fowler into the interview room. He is making his ninth start at THE PLAYERS, and he is our 2015 champion. Welcome back. If we can get some comments on the week ahead.

RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, obviously I feel like, as a player, you always look forward to this week. It's our tournament. It's arguably one of the strongest fields we play all year, and it's a great venue we play out here. Nice to be back as a champion and to always be in the history books here is going to be special.

Looking forward to playing well. This is a place where we know we can play well at and we know we can win at. So looking forward to building off of last week and see if we can get the putter straightened back out, and we'll be good to good.

JOHN BUSH: A couple runner-up finishes for you this year. Comment a little bit about your season up to this point and the state of your game.

RICKIE FOWLER: It's been okay. I feel like we've had some good chances, it would have been nice to have a few better finishes, but to be coming off of the runner-up finish at Augusta, and last week I felt like tee to green was -- I was happy with it, but it would have been nice to have the putter where we're accustomed to having it. I feel like we're in a great spot, and like I said, just get a couple things straightened out, minor tweaks, and it will be a fun week.

Q. You're playing in a marquee group with a couple guys I've never heard of, but the last time Tiger and Phil played together here was in 2001. I think you were 12. Was that how old you were when you dressed as Fred Couples, or what were you up to?
RICKIE FOWLER: I think when I dressed as Freddie, I was seven. Tiger and Phil weren't really relevant yet. They were just kind of coming up.

So I mean, obviously watching THE PLAYERS, this was always a fun tournament to watch, along with the majors. Tiger and Phil are definitely guys I looked up to as a kid, and I know guys of my generation and younger, if they didn't watch them or look up to them in some way, then they may not be out here playing professional golf.

But they're definitely two very influential guys, and what they've done on and off the golf course. So to be able to call them friends of mine now and to be able to go tee it up with them this week, it's going to be fun. Phil and I have played a lot of rounds together, and Tiger and I have played a little bit at home, a little bit -- we've played a few practice rounds together out here. It'll be a good time. It's going to be a little hectic out there. There's going to be quite a few people. And the crowds -- I think you notice them a little bit more around this golf course because of how close together everything is.

I'm looking forward to it. May try and putt out as much as I can before Tiger does just so that I'm not hitting while the circus is moving on. But it's going to be fun. Hopefully the three of us can kind of get things going and feed off each other and get ourselves in a great position for the weekend.

Q. Obviously you've got your own thing going on, what's most important is what you're doing, but if you were not in that group, how interested would you be in the Phil and Tiger head-to-head, so to speak?
RICKIE FOWLER: I definitely think, as a fan, maybe not knowing how much time they have spent together in the past few years with kind of the Ryder Cup stuff, I think -- Tiger and Phil are a bit closer than people knew beforehand. They're starting to see a little bit of that coming out, them playing a practice round at Augusta, and with the Ryder Cup stuff, and the two of them being very involved. It's been fun for me to see kind of behind the scenes that kind of friendship kind of come out a little bit more. Obviously very big rivals. They go head-to-head through kind of the -- obviously I'd say the prime of their career. They may not be in their prime, but they're still very relevant.

It's something that'll be fun to watch because they're friends, they definitely like seeing each other succeed and play well, but when it comes to tournament week, especially if they're playing together, they want to beat up on each other as bad as possible, and I'll be part of that group, as well. To be out in front of those two after Friday would be nice. But ultimately we want that after Sunday.

Like I was talking about earlier, kind of get the three of us going, get some good mojo going and good momentum in the group and kind of feeding off each other would be great, but ultimately you want to beat up on all the guys in your group and everyone in the field. It'll be extra motivation, I'm sure. Tiger is going to want to beat up on myself and Phil, and Phil the same way. So we'll have fun out there doing it, though.

Q. The buildup seems to suggest that there's only two people in your group. Does that help you in the buildup and help your chances not being talked about?
RICKIE FOWLER: I mean, I've got the best seat in the house. Not many other people get to walk the fairways. It'll be fun. I mean, like I said, I'm looking forward to playing with the two of them. I know it's going to be crazy out there. I've played with both of them plenty of times, so it won't be anything new by any means. You know, Tiger and Phil are still two of the biggest names in our sport, so they deserve to be talked about. But we'll see if I can go ahead and get some mentions in there and maybe make myself talked about by week's end.

Q. Next year when we go back to March here, and you haven't had that experience of playing in March, but it's overseeded rye, different wind, north-northeast wind a lot. Will that require any great adjustment on your part?
RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, like I said, I haven't seen the golf course that time of year. I've only kind of heard about it. I think this week we're going to get some winds that will be somewhat similar. I think we're pretty east-biased this week on wind. I think there's a little bit of north in it today, but definitely have never played it when it's straight out of the north, and obviously temperatures can be a bit different, wind, rain, there's a lot of things that can come into play in March.

I think as far as the golf course, the wind shouldn't necessarily change it a whole lot as far as what your sight lines are and where you're trying to hit the ball. There may be a few different clubs you may hit off tees. 17 is going to play a little bit different, obviously being more back into the wind versus days where we get 17 downwind. Luckily it's still the same golf course, still the same look, but just make that adjustment as far as wind direction. I mean, I feel like we do that on a day-to-day basis when it comes to a place like the Open Championship overseas.

Q. What about the overseed, especially on the greens? Any great difference for you?
RICKIE FOWLER: I don't think so, I mean, as far as them being -- if they're in good condition, I don't think it matters a whole lot. I think the overseed around the golf course I think makes chipping and I think play around the greens a bit easier. But I think a lot of it does -- it depends on what the weather is, if they're able to keep it dry or if we have cold and rain. It's kind of up in the air when it comes to March in this area.

Q. Just curious when you were 12 or whatever age, back then, and Tiger and Phil were paired or had some obviously classic duels, who did you root for?
RICKIE FOWLER: I don't think I ever really pulled for anyone over anyone else, and kind of the same way now, especially kind of with the -- my buddies and wanting to see your buddies play well. It was almost -- if they were playing together or playing against each other or going head-to-head, you wanted to see someone that happened to outplay the other or happened to pull off a clutch shot, a shot like Phil hit, the 6-iron on 13 at Augusta or making a putt at the last or making a few birdies coming in. So it wasn't necessarily pulling for one of the two guys, just wanting to see good golf.

And I think it's the same way I am now, same way I've always been. I enjoy seeing my buddies play well and succeed because I want to beat them when they're playing their best. I don't want anything necessarily given to me. I guess if a trophy is handed to you and the tournament is given to you, great, but it feels better when you go earn it and you know that you beat -- whether it's that one person or a few guys that were in contention, you beat them when they were firing on all cylinders.

Q. Just the follow-up on -- you've certainly played in big rounds and big crowds and that sort of thing, but that's a different sort of dynamic. Is that circus sort of -- can it be difficult to manage playing in that?
RICKIE FOWLER: I would say first couple years out, it was definitely a shock to the system in a way. Now it's more than obviously I normally play in front of, but come contention on the weekends, it's just going to -- Thursday-Friday here is going to feel like being in contention on a Sunday of a TOUR event to being at a major. I'm looking forward to it. I feel like it brings -- it most of the time does bring and should bring out the best in myself. I feel like it makes me focus a bit more and dial in on what I'm trying to do and focus on what I need to do, because yeah, there's going to be a lot going on. Like I said, if there's a chance that I can go ahead and tap in, probably tap in, just because once Tiger finishes a hole, there's going to be quite a few people trying to scurry on to the next.

Q. I had a kind of off-topic question. I know you have an affinity for the TopGolf scene, you and some of the younger players do that. What do you feel -- that phenomenon has kind of like excited the millenials, and what do you think it's brought to the game, helped grow it?
RICKIE FOWLER: So yesterday I went and did a thing with Grant Thornton and Junior Achievement over there at TopGolf, and for the most part when I have gone to TopGolf, it's usually some sort of an event based, and I think that's what's been great is being able to host -- you're able to have some sort of event or if you take a group of friends, go hang out, from the atmosphere, to be able to hang out, have some drinks or food and hit balls, laugh at your friends, there's kind of -- there's not really any expectations. It's a very free-loving environment in a way. I don't think it discourages anyone from going ahead and hitting a ball, versus if you go to the driving range and you feel like you've got people that are good golfers next to you and you feel like you should be hitting it better or you should be better to show up at a driving range.

So I feel like they've done a good job of making kind of that entry level almost even lower to feel like you're accepted no matter what. Just go hit the ball, have fun, enjoy it. And I think that you're getting a lot of different walks of life, not just your normal golfers that go to the range. People that have never touched a club before just go and hit a few, have fun, and I think it's great. It's definitely helping grow the game.

Q. You do think it has a trickle-down effect ultimately maybe?
RICKIE FOWLER: I do. I was there with some high school kids yesterday, like I talked about, and a lot of them, it was the first time they've really hit a golf ball, and some of it was a financial reason or just never really had done it. I heard a couple kids talking about that they wanted to try and keep doing it and find a way to go hit more balls and play some golf. In that aspect, yeah, I definitely think it can have a positive impact on the game.

Q. Feeding off a little bit of what he's saying, what would you think the TPC Sawgrass being a public course and Florida having the most amount of public courses in the country, do you think that will help grow even more golf if there were more public courses in the country? And how is your experience on public golf courses?
RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, I grew up on a public golf course and public driving range, so I'm a big supporter of public clubs. Call them like the local munis and stuff. I think the big thing is when public courses and local munis have junior programs, and I actually saw one because we were looking for a friend, but a local muni in the area that we were looking, they actually held, for the first 20 or 25 kids to sign up on I think it was a couple weekends of each month, they had kind of free introduction to the game of golf, and for an hour, being a beginner, just hitting some balls, getting introduced to the game, and then there were different levels of junior lessons and programs and camps, and I think that's a great thing to have it at public golf courses is make it to where you can get introduced to the game at a very cheap or not something that's going to be financially a burden on a family, make it to where some kids, the class is five, ten, 15 bucks. You're not doing these classes to make money, it's get these kids interested and to grow the game. So I thought that was cool to see that there are a number of public courses around the country that do things like that.

And there's even -- there's a private club down where I'm at in Florida that's part of the PGA Junior League, and they have around 40 juniors. But it's not shut off to just the kids at the club. It's a public junior kind of group. So I go over there every once in a while and go hit balls with the kids, and it's fun to see when golf courses, public or private, make the effort to open the doors to the youth and junior golf.

Q. If I'm remembering correctly, when you won this championship, there was a certain player survey out that week that tagged you as overrated. Just curious what your tag is on being considered the best player without a major now.
RICKIE FOWLER: I'm definitely not overrated. It was kind of ironic and fun that that survey happened to come out, and to be sitting up here that Sunday with the trophy and just to kind of, I guess, prove the survey wrong in a way. And to be talked about as one of the best players or the best or however you want to put it without a major, I think it's a compliment. Obviously I have some work to do to get off that list, and I think we've done a great job this year of showing that I'm ready to go win a major. The week we had at Augusta, obviously Patrick played well, but to be there to push him to 72 holes, it was a lot of fun.

I'm ready to go out there and be the last man standing. I think this is a year we have some great chances. I haven't played Carnoustie or Bellerive, but Shinnecock being one of my favorite courses, I'm looking forward to it. This is a week where we look at kind of a similar way.

To have won this in '15, you'd like to consider it almost like winning a major. Obviously it has that feel and the field that we have here, as well. We're ready to go do it. It's time to get myself off that list.

Q. Jordan was in here about an hour ago and said basically the tournament that you won here is harder to win than a major championship --
RICKIE FOWLER: See, so I won one?

Q. What was the takeaway? What was the difference between the Rickie Fowler who walked out of here that Sunday night with the trophy versus the one who arrived that week maybe without a signature victory?
RICKIE FOWLER: I had hit some shots maybe the last hole or made a putt to win, but to step up and play the final, say, six holes the way I did, and especially the last four, and then to step up in the playoff and consistently make swings one after another. It wasn't just I got into the playoff at Wells Fargo in '12 and hit a great drive, but ultimately it just came down to hitting that wedge shot. So that was one shot that really did it.

But you look at, like I said, kind of the last -- even 7 -- I made a great par on 12 that year that kind of helped get me going, and ultimately to give me a chance to play the last few holes the way I did. To step up and hit those shots one after another when I really had to, kind of back up against the wall, and then to be in the playoff and to step up and do it again, it was nice to have that reassurance that it's not just being able to pull off that one swing when it comes down to -- that was basically, so 7 and then four holes, so 11. You can almost look at that as -- where I think it helped, too, is going back to earlier this year at Augusta, my big thing was getting through the first seven there. I made some good up-and-downs. One of them I had to make a good two-putt for bogey, made a great up-and-down on 6 and 7, and then got things going from there. Kind of working your way through, but knowing that that stretch of golf, it's there. Am I ever going to be able to pull off the last four holes like I did that year in '15? Probably not. It's nice to know that it has been done and it can be done.

I think it just goes back to knowing that it's not just one thing that I can pull off, I can carry it down the stretch for a number of holes.

Q. For all of the close goes you've had at the majors, the four in a row a couple years ago when you were top 5 and Augusta, in what ways do you feel like that has strengthened your resolve and your ability to carry it across the finish line?
RICKIE FOWLER: I mean, some of them you look at and say, you know, other years I would have won. I mean, obviously there was -- there happened to be a couple guys that just outplayed everyone that week. You look at Rory, look at Martin Kaymer at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Every time you can get yourself into contention, truly in contention where you have a legit chance. I mean, Pinehurst is hard to say that I was really in contention. Martin was way out front, and we were kind of waiting for him to see if he'd make a mistake because he was too far out to really go catch him.

But when you're really there and have a chance to make a difference in the golf tournament, every time you get there, the more and more comfortable you get. When I talked about Augusta after we finished up, it was really kind of the first time that I knew I could go get the job done. I had been there. Some people are more fortunate to get majors early on. One right there. And some it's going through a little bit of a process. It would have been obviously nice to get one earlier, but to feel the way we do now and to know that it's our time to go get one, it's just kind of checking the boxes and making sure we're fully prepared going into the week and having the game in the right position to go do it.

Q. How important -- the two First Tee principles of confidence, number one, and perseverance, number two. You mentioned Augusta kind of changed, probably added a little confidence, but the perseverance necessary to make the changes to your game, keep fighting, do what you need to do, and secondly, how satisfying is it when you see these young kids? I call them little Rickies. We had a bunch of them out here trying to qualify for Drive, Chip and Putt this week. To see these kids get involved in golf and follow in your footsteps?
RICKIE FOWLER: Well, golf in general, whether it's First Tee, PGA Junior League the confidence and the perseverance, golf teaches you so many great life lessons, and those are two of the big ones. Golf is a game that can never be perfected, and you kind of keep trying to persevere, keep moving forward and keep trying to get better, and it just -- I was lucky enough to get involved at such a young age, and it was something I fell in love with and loved the aspect of it's just yourself, there's no one else to blame, and you have to take full accountability for it.

It does a lot for you as a person. There's so many different places you can go with golf, not just playing professionally, but being able to use it through the rest of your life.

Sorry, what was the second part there?

Q. How satisfying is it to see all the little Rickies out there who follow you, got the Puma gear on, who want to be like you, who want to be really serious golfers, like we had some at the Drive, Chip and Putt last week or just people you see in your travels throughout the TOUR?
RICKIE FOWLER: It's been awesome, and to see it kind of continue to grow. Ultimately my dream was to be playing on the PGA TOUR at the highest level and wasn't planning on what kind of fan base or anything like that. It was just to get out here and kind of fulfill the dream of playing professional golf and make it something that we could do for a long time. And to have the kids and the fans jump on board, from my first years out here, and like I said, to see it continue to grow and get bigger, it's been really special because seeing the positive impact and kids that maybe took up golf and hearing stories a few years down the road from them, maybe seeing a bit of them at the same tournament and hearing, without you, I wouldn't be playing golf, I wouldn't have started playing golf. So it's been special, like I said, to be in the position I'm in to be a positive role model, someone that their kids -- the parents have allowed their kids to look up to.

No, I definitely think it's a big part of the PGA TOUR with guys having their charity events and helping out in the local communities but also growing the game and doing what we can. I wasn't trying to be anyone that I'm not or anything like that or saying, hey, come follow me, I'm going to show you how to play golf. It was just the kids, for some reason, they wanted to follow me and wear the colors.

It's been great. We've had great support from day one, and like I said, it continues to grow. And to hear the stories of people that either took up the game or got interested and are continuing to play, where we just talked about with kind of the First Tee and PGA Junior League, golf teaches you so many great life lessons, so to have that positive impact has been really cool.

JOHN BUSH: Rickie Fowler, thank you for your time.

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