Former college star moves up in class

Rickie Fowler knew it was time to move on. Two years of success at Oklahoma State, including college golf player of the year honors in 2008, convinced him of that.

So the 20-year-old from Murrieta, Calif., packed up and relocated to Summerlin. Today he begins his new life as a full-fledged member of the PGA Tour in the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin.

"It’s been a pretty exciting summer, playing in the Walker Cup and getting my feet wet in some pro events," Fowler said. "I had two great years at Oklahoma State. But at the end of the year, I decided it was time."

Fowler will be in the last group today as he tees off from the first hole with Matt Weibring and Casey Wittenberg.

"I’ve been waiting for this for a long time," said Fowler, who played in his first tournament when he was 41/2 years old. "It doesn’t feel any different, though. I’m still the same guy. I’m still out there for the same reasons. I want to win."

Fowler said the biggest challenge he faces in turning professional is that the margin for error is much smaller than it was in the amateur ranks, where he was the No. 1 player in the world.

"It comes down to good course management; you have to manage your short game and your putting," he said. "You can’t short-side yourself here, make a mistake and then follow it up with another mistake. You have to stay pretty consistent."

Fowler was heavily recruited in high school, and UNLV coach Dwaine Knight made a strong push. But Fowler thinks he made the right choice.

"Oklahoma State gave me the best opportunity to develop my game," Fowler said. "It was a good decision on my part."

Fowler’s last tournament in Las Vegas didn’t turn out so well. Oklahoma State carried a 12-shot lead going into the final round of the Southern Highlands Collegiate Championship in March, but UNLV rallied to win by one shot.

"I try not to think about that one," Fowler said with a laugh. "But they played well the last day, and we didn’t."

Fowler said he has more good memories than bad from his college days.

He’s no longer part of a team when he steps onto the golf course, but Fowler said that suits him fine.

"There’s something about the individual aspect of golf that I’ve always loved. It’s just you," he said. "When I was a kid, I played baseball and I was a pitcher, which is as close to being an individual as you can get in baseball. But I’ve always enjoyed competing as an individual. I used to ride dirt bikes when I was a kid. I love fishing; that’s my other passion. Those are things that you can do by yourself. It’s all on you. I like that."

No rookies have won on the PGA Tour this year, and the odds are against Fowler breaking through this week. The Shriners field includes eight top-30 players and several veterans.

Fowler said he has played TPC Summerlin just twice but won’t count himself out of the running.

"I feel like I’m the underdog a bit," he said. "But it’s good. I’ll be flying under the radar and I can just go out and play. If I can get my putter rolling this week, I feel I can definitely make a run for it."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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