Fashion-forward Fowler might have edge at Open

(Eds: With AP Photos.)By JIM LITKEAP Sports Writer

Rickie Fowler routinely travels with a dozen pairs of golf shoes in tow. This week might be the rare tournament where the third-year pro and noted clotheshorse actually wears every pair at least once – just trying to keep his feet dry.

Rain showers lashed Royal Lytham several times a day through the practice rounds this week and could again be a factor once the British Open begins in earnest off the northwest coast on Thursday. Fowler lives in Florida and he learned to play the game growing up in sunny California, but he’s taken to the tough conditions on this side of the pond like a duck.

”I definitely think there are guys that either get off to a tough start or aren’t looking at the weather the right way and may kind of beat themselves before they tee off,” he said Wednesday.

Fowler realized he could have been one of those guys after shooting 79 at wet and windy St. Andrews in his first-ever round at the Open in 2010. He started out coping with the weather well, then made triple-bogey late and added another double staggering in. But drawing on his experience in the Walker Cup in Northern Ireland a year earlier, Fowler navigated his way around the Old Course with a 67 the next day to make the cut and wound up finishing in a tie for 14th.

Both those memories provided some comfort last year at Royal St. George’s, when he sat in the locker room Saturday and prepared to go out for the third round in some of the worst golfing weather he’d ever seen. So did a glimpse of how five-time Open champion Tom Watson, playing a few groups ahead, embraced the same challenge. Watson, who was 61 at the time, remains one of the best bad-weather golfers ever.

”He just looked like he was hitting his shot and walking forward and moving on,” Fowler recalled.

The longer he and caddie Joe Skovron watched, the more they marveled at Watson’s unflinching demeanor.

”Joe just said to me, `It’s going to be tough. Some guys aren’t going to like it. But if we can go out and make some fun of it and keep moving forward, we could make up a lot of ground’ – which we did.

”I knew it was important to go out and play the first few holes solid,” Fowler added. ”That was where a lot of it was into the wind. … We got off to a good start and definitely made the most out of the Saturday there.”

Fowler shot 68, then 72 in the final round and finished tied for fifth. Small wonder that despite the narrow driving lanes on a course featuring more than 200 bunkers and some of the most fearsome rough at an Open in years, he said, ”I’m really looking forward to it.”

”There may be fewer options here this week,” he added a moment later. ”And there’s definitely going to be some shot-making that’s going to need to happen out there. But I love to play links golf, like I said. You can be as creative as you want.”

Previously, when Fowler’s name and the word ”creative” turned up in the same sentence, a discussion of his sometimes-outrageous clothes or his membership in the ”Golf Boys” band was likely to follow. The 23-year-old teamed with fellow golfers Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan and Ben Crane last year to make a boy-band video spoof titled ”Oh Oh Oh” that mocked the game’s buttoned-down image and raised money for charity.

But Fowler also sandwiched a solid rookie debut at the 2010 Ryder Cup between those impressive Open performances, then won on the PGA Tour for the first time in May at Quail Hollow. His shot-making ability might be more recognized now, but Fowler, who is largely self-taught, always believed it was a cornerstone of his game – especially over here.

”Basically I learned the game as you would if it would have been 1950 versus 1995. So it was a great way for me to be brought up, a very different way in today’s day and age.” he said.

”But I think it’s a huge credit to who I am now and I guess the creativity I have and the way I like to play and one of the reasons why I love links golf.”