Rickie Fowler had his first top 10 in over 16 months on the PGA Tour on Sunday at the PGA Championship and it was refreshing to see the golf star back in contention in a major as he finished at Kiawah Island in a tie for eighth.
Longtime caddie Joe Skovron enjoyed the course at Kiawah Island but also knows it was a tough test for caddies and players.
“I thought (Kiawah) was great, I thought it was a really good test of golf and I thought they did a really good job of setup,” Skovron said. “It was great to see the wind switch a little bit on Sunday. We had a benign wind on Saturday so it was cool to see the other direction and we got to see the golf course two different ways which I thought was great.”
Golf fans had gotten so accustomed to seeing Fowler often in the Sunday mix at majors, and after missing the Masters and finishing out of contention in the 2020 majors it was good for both Skovron and Fowler to get a taste of the heat again.
“Yeah it was really fun to move up the board on Saturday and with the run we’ve been on we hadn’t been in the mix in a while, but obviously we were in the mix in the last group in Memphis but other than that we hadn’t really been in the mix in a while. So it was good to see Rickie play well, that was great,” Skovron said. “We just played fantastic on Sunday (1-under 71) and the golf course was playing tough. He played even better than the score he shot with the quality of shots that he was hitting into the wind, so that was nice to see. And it was just fun with the pairing (with Jordan Spieth).”
If you are a fan that attended on Sunday, the group of Spieth and Fowler would have been an interesting one to follow. Skovron felt some energy from the crowd that’s been rare during these last 15 months of COVID.
“Absolutely, there was tons (of electricity),” Skovron said. “We got to 17 and they were loud, vocal, boisterous all day and fired up, but 17 was another level. I can’t imagine what it was like when Phil got to 17 and then the crowd coming inside the ropes on 18. But even for us, it just felt big, so it was cool.”
Though they only ended up five shots behind Mickelson in the end, Skovron is also realistic that they were not deep in the Sunday hunt.
“It’s hard to say we were really in the mix when you’re seven back and starting the day in 13th, but it felt like you were in there and felt like you had a chance if something got it going, if the leaders went sideways and you posted a number,” Skovron said.
“The crowd and the excitement. Him and Jordan together always brings a little bit more excitement too with the crowd, so it was a lot of fun to be back in the mix and kind of get the juices flowing so that was what we’re all out there for.”
Did Skovron see this coming from Fowler? He had missed his last two cuts and fell to 128th in the world entering the PGA (Fowler’s first time drifting outside the top 100 in OWGR since February 2010). But Skovron sees Fowler’s game every day and each practice round, and something was coming to light for him evidently.
“He’s been trending and has shown signs for a while, we just hadn’t put together four days,” Skovron said. “His iron-play was great all week, so that was nice to see and then the putter over four days, it was the best I can remember for a while so the last I looked he was like 13th in strokes-gained putting and he was fourth through three rounds. I think that makes a big difference making the momentum swingers and putts that keep the round going.”
Caddying at Kiawah was a tough challenge for caddies as Skovron explains.
“It kept you on your toes all the time, caddying and playing it, there is no break in the golf course to take time off, you’re always there and you’ve got to be in every shot all the time and keep your focus out there and pay attention to what’s going on,” Skovron said. “The biggest thing is the wind and I think that all comes down to the guy you work for and their judgement of shots and being able to hit certain flights. When it’s blowing 15-20 you can say ‘hey, there’s 10, 12, or 15 of hurt’ but it’s all gonna depend on the ball flight.”
Skovron was happy for friend Tim Mickelson and how memorable Phil and Tim’s winning moment was.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I sent (Tim) a text saying I think it was so great that he got to be a part of that with his brother, part of golf history. Being out there it just it had to be cool.”
Now Skovron and Fowler, who is still not qualified for the U.S. Open in the top 60 in the world, look ahead to their next start at Memorial. The plan is to play as well as possible to get in the U.S. Open and if not, Fowler is signed up for Sectional Qualifying near Columbus on Monday, June 8.
“To get in that top 60 I don’t know what we would need, if it’s a win or a second, we’ve just got to try to play well at Memorial and plan on trying to go to the qualifier for the next day and hopefully go do something good enough to not have to go to that qualifier. And if we don’t, then go make it through the 36 and make it through to Torrey,” Skovron said.
This is not just any U.S. Open venue for Team Fowler. Skovron considers it a home game U.S. Open as it’s the closest U.S. Open venue to where they grew up in Murrieta, California just 66 miles away.
“It’s basically a hometown event for us. We play that event every year with him being a Farmers guy,” Skovron said. “There are lots of family and friends there so it would be great to get in. He played there as an amateur in the last Open there. I didn’t caddie for him but I went out and watched him play the first round, there was a bunch of us from back home watching him play that Thursday round. You don’t ever want to miss a major, you want to be a part of it, and especially that close to home.”