Mired in a season-long slump, Rickie Fowler looks for spark at 2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic

Rickie Fowler is searching for his game again.

The 35-year-old fan favorite is mired in a season-long slump that has him on the outside looking in for the FedEx Cup playoffs at No. 91 in the standings with just six weeks until the top-70 advance to the first of three playoff events in Memphis.

Fowler is hoping that a return to the Motor City and the 2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club will jumpstart a playoff run. Much like the rebirth of Detroit itself, Fowler a year ago capped off a resurgence in his game in the city with his first victory in more than four years. He sank a 12-foot birdie putt to win a three-man sudden-death playoff.

That win was his first as a father and pictures with Maya from that day always will be a treasured memento. So, too, will the photo of his reaction as his winning putt dropped. No caption necessary: the image of him, head tilted ever-so-slightly to the sky is the definition of pure relief.

2023 Rocket Mortgage Classic
2023 Rocket Mortgage Classic

Rickie Fowler and his caddie Ricky Romano react with joy after making birdie on the 18th green to win the 2023 Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier/USA TODAY Sports)

“I was kind of just still and quiet and everyone was going crazy around me,” Fowler said. “It was a nice moment just to kind of feel like the weight on my shoulders was finally off.”

Fowler, whose world ranking had plummeted to No. 185 and had barely qualified for the FedEx Cup Playoffs when the top 125 made it, rose to No. 22 a week after his Rocket Mortgage Classic win and went on to be chosen to the 12-man U.S. Ryder Cup team. Although the Tour no longer gives out such an award, he would have been an unanimous choice for winner of the Tour’s Comeback Player of the Year. But ever since the calendar flipped, Fowler has lost his swagger again.

He enters the week at No. 50 in the world and has recorded just two top-20s in 16 starts, including missing the cut at the Memorial and U.S. Open in June. Whereas last year he entered the Rocket Mortgage Classic with three top 10s and a top-15 finish, Fowler has no top 10s and five missed cuts in 23 starts since tasting victory a year ago.

“I’ve basically played terrible this year. Pretty simple way to sum it up,” he said. “I’ve been putting the work in but just need to stay patient and wait to see some progress.”

His ball-striking, which sparked his resurgence, has been a key reason for his decline. Last season, he ranked seventh in Strokes Gained: Approach. This season? He’s No. 142.

Precision was part of Fowler’s winning formula last year at Detroit GC as he ranked second in the field in greens in regulation, hitting 61 of 72. To hear Fowler tell it, what he really needs to do is get his putter back in his good graces. He entered the week ranked No. 131 in Strokes Gained: Putting after finishing at 48th last season. He ranked fifth in that category on the undulating, tiered putting surfaces at Detroit GC a year ago.

2023 Rocket Mortgage Classic
2023 Rocket Mortgage Classic

Rickie Fowler walks off the 18th green with his daughter Maya and wife Allison Stokke after winning the 2023 Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier/USA TODAY Network)

“I think a big part of freeing myself up and allowing myself to play better golf starts on the greens and helps when I’m making putts,” said Fowler, who noted the putter cooperated a little more last week, where he recorded a top-20 finish at the Travelers Championship. “When I’m putting at least up to my standards or at least average, it kind of frees up the rest of the game.”

With rain already having fallen this week and more in the forecast, Detroit GC should be ripe for the taking again. Fowler, who led the field in par breakers last year, is a fan of the Donald Ross layout, which dates to 1916 is scheduled for a renovation before next year’s tournament.

“We don’t get to play very many old-school golf courses like this so it’s a treat for a lot of guys who can appreciate kind of old-school golf course architecture,” Fowler said.

Perhaps coming back to one of his happy hunting grounds and site of his sixth career Tour title will provide the necessary spark. After all, it had been 1,610 days, or 4 years, 4 months, 29 days between victories, the longest drought of his Tour career. He called his T-20 last week “good progress” and a momentum builder that instilled a boost of confidence that his game may be as close as he thinks it is.

“We’ll see if we can kind of reignite some stuff from then and get past the little bit of a slow year it’s been and just go have some fun this week,” he said.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek