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Rookie making name for himself on golf course

Most students coming out of college don’t know exactly where their first job will be.

And even if they do know where they’ll head off to work, those students will likely enter their first place of employment with at least a little anxiety.

But Rickie Fowler knew right where he was going. And the 21-year-old has had no apprehension since leaving Oklahoma State after his sophomore year.

Fowler is officially in the midst of his rookie season on the PGA Tour, and the Summerlin resident is adjusting quite nicely.

"I expected to have a little bit of trouble, but at the same time, I knew I could play out here," Fowler said. "I wasn’t really nervous. I really felt like I could go out there and compete, so I haven’t had any real ‘wow’ moments."

That probably has a lot to do with how his two years in college went. He was a two-time All-American who won the Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s top college player after his freshman year. He helped the United States to a victory over Great Britain in last year’s Walker Cup — a Ryder Cup-style event for amateurs.

Plus, he got a couple of PGA Tour starts last fall, with the first coming at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at the TPC Summerlin. He tied for seventh in that event, earning a spot the following week at the Frys.com Open in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he nearly went out and nabbed his first PGA Tour victory, tying for second after a three-way playoff.

He also got a handful of PGA Tour starts while still an amateur, including a pair of U.S. Opens, thanks to his collegiate success.

"Having some playing experience on the PGA and Nationwide tours definitely helps," Fowler said.

Indeed, as he’s gotten off to a great start in 2010. At the Farmers Insurance Open, held in January at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., he opened with a 67 and followed with three straight 70s to tie for fifth at 11-under 277.

Four weeks later, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, he reeled off four consecutive rounds in the 60s, starting with a blistering 6-under 65 and capping it off with a 3-under 68 to take second at 15-under 269. That was just one shot behind winner Hunter Mahan, another former Oklahoma State star.

"I just played fairly solid in those events," Fowler said of his Torrey Pines and Phoenix efforts. "I’d say overall, I’ve driven the ball pretty well this year. But I haven’t had a great week of putting yet. It would have made a big difference (in Phoenix) if I had a halfway decent putting week. I really didn’t putt very well — I had three three-putts and one four-putt.

"Usually, when you’re looking at the guys high up on the leaderboard, most of them are at the top of the putting stats, either in putts per green or putts per round."

The Phoenix stop wrapped up the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, a stretch that kept Fowler close to his residence here and to his hometown of Murrieta, Calif. In fact, being relatively near home is what drew him to Las Vegas.

"I definitely wanted to try to stay somewhere close to home, and I’ve always liked it out here. There are lots of good places to play here," Fowler said. "And there are a lot of (former) UNLV guys and PGA Tour pros here, so you can always find someone to practice with."

The tour is currently on a Florida swing. Fowler missed the cut at the Honda Classic the first weekend of March, but got back on track by making the cut in last weekend’s Transitions Championships, where he had a particularly strong first three rounds.

He slipped back with a 77 in the final round to finish 46th, but Fowler is realizing more and more that he has the tools to win — and perhaps very soon — on the PGA Tour.

"Ultimately, I’m out there to try to win every week," he said, noting the next couple of weeks are key to another goal: making the Masters. Fowler is 79th in the world rankings; if he can make a big move at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, or next week at the Shell Houston Open, he might just find a way to Augusta on the second weekend of April.

"I’m really looking forward to playing Bay Hill, and I’d like to sneak into the top 50 to get in the Masters," he said. "If not, I still want to get into the top 50 before the U.S. Open or the British Open. And my ultimate goal is to make the Ryder Cup team this year."

His success thus far certainly shows that all of those goals are reasonable — he sits 18th on this year’s money list, having already earned $889,471.

That gives him some options for the rest of the year, as he doesn’t necessarily have to head out every single weekend, worried about keeping his PGA Tour card for 2011.

"I want to play throughout the year, but not wear myself out," he said. "Playing well early has helped me to be able to pick and choose a little bit."

That said, his experience so far has been so good that he’s eager to get out there often, going to work at a job that almost no one could imagine having — let a alone a 21-year-old.

"It’s a great atmosphere," Fowler said. "All the guys are great, and it’s fun to be among the best players in the world. I’m looking forward to every week I get to play out here. It’s what I’ve dreamed about doing, and I’m just living that dream."

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