TULSA, Okla. — Rickie Fowler doesn’t offer many windows into his psyche.

This has always been its greatest strength, especially away from golf courses. He’s measured, polite and never controversial – a marketer’s dream – which is one of the reasons he’s been such an ever-present commercial presence in our lives for nearly a decade. He’s been good at golf, sure, but no one in the game has ever been better at growing his popularity while presenting a friendly blank canvas to the world.

There are times, however, when it only offers a burst of opening. Monday of PGA Championship week in Southern Hills was one of those rare times. He said that lately he’s been working with someone on the mental side of his game, just trying to accept the negative thoughts as they come and then push them out before hanging on. above the ball. However, he did not want to name the person.

“I don’t know if I want to throw names or not,” Fowler said. “I won’t name any names yet.”

It’s no secret that Fowler has struggled in recent years. Once ranked 4th in the world, it has fallen to 146th in the Official World Golf Rankings. In nine starts in 2022, he has missed the cut five times. It has been more than three years since he won a tournament. He’s in the field this week because he finished T-8 at the 2021 PGA Championship, but risks missing the next two majors without a dramatic raise this summer.

“Going through that is never fun,” Fowler said. “I really enjoyed it, as much as it sucked. I definitely found myself – not that I ever fell in love with the game or anything – but I embraced the grind and look of just take each day and go out and enjoy it, even though we’ve been through tough times.”

Even before this string of disappointing results, Fowler was a bit of an enigma in the game. Although he didn’t win at the same clip as some of his peers (five times in the last decade), he looked undeniable with fans, young and old. You could barely watch golf on TV without being bombarded with clips of him selling insurance or mortgages. He was so frequently selected for featured groups on PGA Tour Live that other Tour players started joking that he should be renamed Rickie Tour Live.

But the jokes – while frequent – ​​never felt driven by resentment or jealousy, in part because Fowler was always keen to celebrate the success of his peers, frequently waiting around the 18th green to congratulate someone who won. Long before a TV show like “Ted Lasso” made acts of kindness cool again (instead of corny), Fowler was out there kissing people for capturing trophies, even the ones he really wanted.

“There have been many times where I’ve finished and signed my card, and that’s all I can do,” Fowler said. “A friend wins and it’s cool to see and celebrate that together. At the same time, it was great to have friends for me. It’s a bit like coming back to competition with your friends and buddies. For me , there’s no better feeling than when you know you beat your buddies and you kind of have bragging rights and you come to terms with that when your buddies beat you. got this week. Let’s fight next week.’ “

Even if Fowler never regains the form he showed in 2014, when he finished in the top five of four majors (something only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods had done before), he believes the key to regaining it could reside in a visit. from Ghosts of the Swings Past. When Fowler first hit the tour, he had one of the flattest backswings in golf, a move that generated a lot of power but sometimes didn’t hold up under the pressure he wanted. Over the years, he’s made some dramatic changes working with Butch Harmon — and had a lot of success. But in recent years, with Harmon no longer teaching full-time, he’s revisited some elements of his old swing with coach John Tillery.

“There’s a reason the swings that worked and maybe had positions that felt unorthodox, or against vanilla, were successful,” Tillery said. “Obviously the guys want to make their movement as clean and repeatable as possible, but you don’t want to overlook or sacrifice the DNA that made it work in the process. My job is to help him navigate that process of what he already knows how to do.”

His current goal? With his back to the target as quickly as possible so that his arms do not go past his body as he returns to the ball.

“There was a lot of testing to find out where the body or the club was working properly or well in certain areas, even though my swing was kind of unorthodox, but through college golf and my early years on the Tour, my body was working a lot better than I would say three or four years ago,” Fowler said. “So putting a few different things together at different times, making it all work together. It’s been a long road.”

There is still a question, and much speculation, about which tour Fowler will present, regardless of the progress he has made. Although he hasn’t been one of the biggest names rumored to be interested in joining the LIV Golf Tour, Fowler said Monday he hasn’t made up his mind yet. He sounded, in fact, like someone very open to the idea.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t necessarily made a decision one way or the other,” Fowler said. “I’ve mentioned in the past… do I currently think the PGA Tour is the best place to play? I do. Do I think it can be better? Yes. I’ve always considered competition as a good thing. It’s the driving force of our game. You know, being able to have games with guys at home, that’s how I always grew up, it’s competition. I think competition ultimately makes people better, whether in business or in sport. So it’s interesting, that’s for sure.”

Five years ago, the threat of potentially losing Fowler to a rival golf league would have been a disastrous development for the future of the PGA Tour. These days, with the emergence of young stars like Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Collin Morikawa (as well as the re-emergence of Jordan Spieth), Tour leaders would likely lose less sleep. But on some level, it would still feel like a seismic event in the golf world. Fowler once seemed like the magnet that drew young eyeballs to the PGA Tour, especially those who weren’t there for Tiger Woods’ bounty. His departure would do a lot more for the long-term viability of LIV Golf than some of the names discussed, most of whom are players who are well past their prime.

The PGA Tour has made it clear that it will not grant release to play in LIV Tour events, and that any player who participates anyway will be subject to a lifetime ban, which is likely to be disputed. before the courts. Fowler said it would be nice to know if a ban was truly enforceable, but for some players the consequences may not matter. They leave anyway. He, as of now, is still exploring his options.

“Are we independent contractors or not? Fowler said. “I feel like there needs to be some clarity between whether you’re an independent contractor or whether you’re essentially an employee.”

It wasn’t too long ago that Fowler didn’t have to consider such big issues when he felt he was the future of the PGA Tour and it was only a matter of time. before he won his first major tournament. His future seemed limitless.

It’s still possible, at least in theory. Fowler insists he never lost his thirst for the game, even at his lowest points. He is always looking forward to playing and never believed he would benefit from putting the clubs away for weeks.

“I gotta work fast on the range, man,” Tillery said. “He’s always ready to get to the tee.”

Appropriating his swing, relying more on instinct than on technical reflections, is part of his next evolution.

“I feel like there’s a lot of good stuff coming here shortly,” Fowler said.

Perhaps going back to the past will help illuminate the way forward.