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March 11, 2020

Rickie Fowler

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

DOUG MILNE: We would like to welcome Rickie Fowler, 2015 PLAYERS champion to the interview room here. Thanks for joining us for a few minutes, making your 11th start in THE PLAYERS Championship this week, obviously with some success, so with that said, just some thoughts on being back here at TPC Sawgrass this week.

RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, it's obviously always great to be back here at TPC. It's a special place being that I've had a win here in 2015 and some other good finishes, but this is the arguably the strongest field that we play against, it's our tournament, and it's been interesting to get to see the course in March versus May. So it's quite a bit different, but looking forward to the week as all the other players, and this is definitely one that we always look forward to being here.

DOUG MILNE: You've obviously enjoyed the success on the course. Diabolical is a word that's used often to describe the course. How have you been able to kind of tame that to where it kind of caters to your game somewhat?

RICKIE FOWLER: The golf course, if you look at it properly, it's fairly straightforward; hit it in the fairway, hit it on the green, wear out the fairways and greens. But there's a lot of other things that come into play: Plenty of water, a lot of bunkers, a lot of funky little ones. And honestly, I'm not happy unless there's sand in my pants.

DOUG MILNE: Okay. Open it up to questions.

Q. How did you celebrate Sunday night after you won? And secondly, no one's ever defended here; why do you think it's so difficult to win here as a defending champion?
RICKIE FOWLER: So Sunday after we won, as you guys know, obviously there's some media stops and I think we went and did the post-tournament show with the Golf Channel or Golf Central. By that time it was -- we had probably been a couple hours in, I think there was a stop in the clubhouse and the staff had tacos waiting for us in the locker room, so that was a nice way to kind of round it out. Had a drink and then we hung out there for maybe an hour and hopped in the car, headed south, and I was on set at a shoot at 6:30 the next morning. So not a whole lot of celebrating, a couple hours of sleep and a long day the next day. But all worth it.

To me, why it's tough to defend here, it's a golf course that doesn't necessarily fit any one style of player. I saw something that was posted not long ago of kind of the recent past champions here and what guys did well from whether it was driving the ball, approach, putting, scrambling, and there was nothing really that stood out as one thing between all players. Some guys hit more irons off tee, some guys hit a lot of drivers, some guys putted well, but there's not one particular thing that was necessarily common between all of them. This golf course isn't necessarily long so it doesn't necessarily benefit a bomber of the golf ball, and to me at the end of the day it's whoever has the most control and kind of keeps it simple, fairways and greens. Like I said, there's not really one thing that stands out, so I think everyone in the field, it doesn't really weed anyone out.

Q. You started working with John Tillery, so what led a California kid to land on the Georgia boy, John Tillery, over all the other coaches out there, and how quickly did he put you on the metronome?
RICKIE FOWLER: The metronome was definitely brought up the first time I saw him, and I'm someone that's terrible with any sort of timing, whether how it's related to music and dancing. That's not something I put in my -- it's very low on my list of what I'm good at. So bringing timing and a metronome into the swing and being, trying to be somewhat symmetrical on both sides of the ball has been a little bit of an adjustment, something that's been very beneficial. And now it's just the kind of connection really through Kiz and spending a lot of time around him over the last few years and had been around JT a bit with him being around Kiz obviously. So he's just someone that's easy to be around, love his outlook on the game, the swing. I mean he's -- as all of us are, we're golf nerds, but he's a big golf nerd and a big swing nerd, so we have had a lot of fun together and he's someone that's just fun and easy to be around and hang out with.

Q. There seems to be a lot of growing abundance of caution regarding the coronavirus and all that with cancellations and postponements of events all over the country. But it's largely business as usual out here this week. As a player, do you have more concern maybe about signing autographs, about interacting with the galleries this week other than maybe you normally have, and are you conscious of that more so than usual?
RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, I would say probably taking a little bit more precaution than normal. But over the years I think I've gone -- I've become more and more kind of cautious of how I've interacted as far as high-fives or maybe any kind of -- yeah high five to fist bump, anything that goes on throughout the round. Early in my career I felt like there was a lot more of that, which led to -- not saying it was a direct reflection of it, but sick more often. So for me, usually try not to do anything really on course at all, and then with the autograph area setup, it's really where I'll kind of direct all signing to and that way I am really in control of how it's done and I can kind of hang in one spot, and I mean, I've always signed with my own pens and stuff like that, so it's not necessarily a change, but you're still having contact, whether you use people's Sharpies or pens, you're still getting their stuff.

But if I can do it after the round or when I'm done with my practice or whatever it may be, I can go ahead and sign and then if there's hand sanitizer to be able to go to the restroom and wash up afterwards. Nothing really more than normal, but just maybe a little bit more precautious (sic).

Q. This is an Olympic year. You are obviously a proud Olympian with the tattoo and everything, but describe just preparing your game for having six marquee tests of golf from THE PLAYERS all the way through the Olympics. And with this being the first test, how are you going to approach those six the rest of the year?
RICKIE FOWLER: Well, with how the new season's laid out, I mean, you used to look at Augusta obviously the start of it and then May to August kind of from PLAYERS through our playoffs, that was really the main chunk of the season. But now it almost seems like it doesn't really stop, so through the fall is kind of the time that you look to maybe take some time off or work on the game, however that is, whether that's away from tournament golf or playing some events.

Then you start with THE PLAYERS and now it's a little bit longer of an extended -- big events that are a little bit more spread out. So I wouldn't say necessarily that you're trying to peak in the summer or anything like that, you got to be on top of your game a lot more often for an extended period of time. So it hasn't necessarily changed it. Obviously every time you're teeing it up you're going out there to play your best and you're playing tournaments to go win.

I think the biggest change was THE PLAYERS being switched from May to March. It plays differently here with that two-month difference, and then with the PGA going to May, with some of the tournaments being further north we could get some interesting weather or potential cold weather, but for me you still look at the majors and THE PLAYERS as those are the ones that you're setting your schedule around.

There's only a handful of guys that get to go to the Olympics. I'm still on the outside looking in. I got to take care of business to have a chance to be there, but it's something I highly recommend for guys to go do and girls on the women's side. It's a special experience and hopefully with everything going on that it's still going to be able to go on in Tokyo this summer.

Q. Regarding your grouping yesterday JT talked about the fine line between getting serious, and as he said, yukking it up when you're with friends. How do you look at it playing in a group; is it more fun with close friends?
RICKIE FOWLER: It is for me. I mean, there's definitely going to be more interaction with the guys that you're closer to or closer with. Maybe a little bit of trash talk, just between us for fun and what we would normally do. But within reason. And to me, I mean, playing with your buddies, your close friends, it's always kind of pushed me to play my best. Not that that comes out every time that you play against your buddies, but your close friends are the ones that you want to lose to the least amount, so you want to go beat them up, and it would be nice to have bragging rights over them each day and it would be fun to kind of push each other through the weekend as well.

Q. This is a question from a fan in China. You've had some great moments on the 17th, and what's your strategy and mindset on the island green here this week?
RICKIE FOWLER: Island green, yeah, I've been fortunate, I've made a lot of good swings there and had a lot of success on 17. But trying to keep it as simple as possible there. Obviously my caddie Joe and I, we pick a line and a specific target of exactly where we're trying to land the ball. Really getting committed to that, making sure we go through our normal process, setup, and when we're over the ball it's just focusing on making a good swing and hitting that number. Easier said than done, but no, it's a fun hole. Luckily it's not very long, but when it does play back into the wind, which is possible this time of year but I don't think we're going to get much of that this week, it's a fairly simple shot. It's just when you get out of your routine or you kind of have like a little mental hiccup, that's when the problems happen. But the more that you can kind of stay with what you normally do and stay precise on where you're trying to hit your shot, usually good things happen.

Q. A little off topic here, but just looking at the last three or four years of Masters, guys who have almost won it or finished second, it's a real who's-who list of guys on TOUR. I'm wondering how you process 2018 between being proud of the close that you had to have there to get that close and then maybe recounting I let a shot get away here or there. Just how did you process finishing second that year?
RICKIE FOWLER: I thought it was great week, especially coming off of some of the Sundays I had there prior to that, being around or having a chance and not necessarily playing a good front nine or just having a bad Sunday as a whole. I did a really good job of just managing my way through the front nine, not necessarily playing my best golf, making sure I was still in the tournament and not taking myself completely out of it. And then I did a really good job on the back nine, had a few missed opportunities, but executed the shots and drove the ball well and put myself in a position where I had a chance. So I was happy with it. Yeah, one shot short and something you can go back on, and there's a number of tournaments where you're a shot or a few shots back of who ends up winning on Sunday, and you can always, well, what if this went in or if I just made this putt, but there's nothing you can do to change that. You can only learn from it and try and limit those mistakes, if they were mistakes. Sometimes you hit a good putt and they just don't go in, it might have been a misread.

But for me it was more just how I handled everything that day and through the back nine, like I said, executed, and like you can learn from the little mistakes that were made, but to me I didn't make mistakes. I missed some opportunities on the greens. 17 I thought I hit it in there close and I missed my landing spot by about two yards to that right pin, and no, that's where you want to be on Sundays, and we put ourselves in that position and had a chance to do it, and Patrick played well.

Q. I also have Masters question. Tiger's win last year was one of the biggest moments in sports in 2019. Will the spectre of that victory still sort of hang over this year's Masters, at least at the beginning when people are arriving? I mean, does it have that kind of permanence that even a year later it will still be in people's minds?
RICKIE FOWLER: That's going to be in people's minds forever. Tiger's had the biggest impact on our sport with that stage kind of set by guys like Jack, Arnie, Greg Norman, and some others that came before him. But for him to do what he did, to come back after being away from the game for a few years and potentially in a spot where he may not be able to play competitively again, to come back and win at East Lake and to go win the Masters, like I said, from a position where people thought he may not even play competitive rounds again, it's very impressive. So that's going to be around forever.

Once the tournament gets going, it's about 2020, but 2019 is definitely part of history.

Q. When you won in 2015 you gained three strokes off the tee. In the last three years you've lost strokes off the tee every year. Do you have an idea of why, and has your strategy changed at all off the tee for this year?
RICKIE FOWLER: I didn't drive it as well the last couple years here. Yeah, when I won in 2015 I was, I mean any club I was hitting off the tee, because you're not always hitting driver here, I was hitting everything very tight lines, knew where it was going, I was very much in control. I mean, definitely shows when I was able to pull driver on 18 multiple times and I was swinging very freely. So it wasn't like I was guiding it or trying to control, it was just kind of letting things happen, and it was point and shoot and just commit to it.

So that's a lot more of where I feel like I am this year coming in. I know it hasn't been the greatest start to the season for me, but definitely been heading the right way and trending. So with working on a lot of the new stuff with JT, I love where we're at and where we're heading, so we're heading the right direction. Like I said, I feel like I'm much more in a spot where I know where it's going, and that's something that can be very beneficial around this place.

Q. I'm curious, a lot of players we're now hearing battling injuries, Brooks, Justin, wrist injuries, knee injuries. What do you feel is contributing to that, and how do you balance that between working out, practicing, your schedule, and is there anything in particular fitness-wise that you do just to protect the long term of your game?
RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, ultimately you want to be out here playing healthy when you do play. I mean, I think a lot of injuries can come from almost playing too much. Doing anything at a high level and high speed, you're putting a lot of stress on your body, so the time management of that, of playing the right amount, not playing too much, but also not playing too little where you're not ready to play when you do play. I think there's almost -- there's too many playing opportunities. There's not really an off season where guys either get to go work on the game, rest if they may be in a spot where they need to work on a part of the body or an injury. For me, off weeks when I'm at home is when I do most of my working out. I'll be in the gym lifting weights probably five days a week, doing therapy every day, and on the road it's therapy every day and I'll try and get in a workout or two early in the week, if I can, if time permits, but I'm also not wanting to push the body and be fatigued come Thursday.

So this afternoon I'll probably do some sort of movement, just to make sure the body's firing and good to go and then get some more therapy after that. But, yeah, like I mentioned the first part, it's the time management side of it and making sure that you're playing the right amount to where you're also able to recover and then work out to make sure you're staying in a consistent spot with your body strength-wise and movement, so that you're not seeing the body kind of taper the wrong direction through the season.

So it's personal, kind of a personal balance for everyone. Everyone's going to be different, whether it's how hard they push in the gym or maybe not at all. Yeah, you've got to find out what works best for you.

Q. You go way back with Kevin Dougherty who's been so close the last couple years. Can you kind of reflect on how you met him and growing up with him and what qualities in Kevin that stand out to you?
RICKIE FOWLER: Yeah, I've known Kevin for a long time. We both grew up in Murrieta back home, played a lot of golf with him. When we were both juniors, I believe he was four or five years behind me. So at one point he was a lot shorter and smaller than me. Now he's 6'2" and he's spent a lot of time in the gym and is very strong and hits the ball a lot further than me now, where I used to be able to hit a 4-iron past him. So it's been really fun to see him grow and be somewhat of a big brother to him.

He's someone that has basically turned himself into a real professional golfer. As a junior he wasn't necessarily someone that was looked at as one of the great juniors or anything like that, but he kept working really hard to get himself to the next level and he's continued to do that. He worked hard through high school, gave himself a chance to go to Oklahoma State and get to play there and kept working there and just kept getting better and better. So which is, I think, somewhat -- it's not something you see all the time. A lot of times you see the guys that are talented and towards the top of each level, those are the ones that move on, and some don't make it, some do, but it's rare to see someone just go out and outwork and put the time in.

It's been fun to watch, and very proud of what he's been able to do, and we stay in touch quite a bit, and if we're not talking I'm always watching and seeing what he's doing. So it's been nice to see him be close early this year and to start to play a little bit better and, yeah, I feel like he's someone that he's a fighter, and like I said, he's going to outwork his way and I wouldn't be surprised if he's out here with us soon.

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