Editor’s note: This story originally published in the Charlotte Observer on May 7, 2012.
If the average man wore an orange shirt, orange pants, orange and white shoes, a white belt and a white cap that features the orange outline of an animal, here’s what would happen.
A spouse, parent, legal guardian or stranger would say: “Who told you that looked good?”
But Rickie Fowler wears this outfit every Sunday as a tribute to his alma mater, Oklahoma State. Fowler says his sponsor allows him to be who he is.
Who he is: a not very tall and impossibly lean golfer with long dark hair, a starter mustache and a cap so big that even if you had a huge ego your head would look small.
In the olden days, Tiger Woods intimidated the competition with the red shirt he wore Sunday. There’s no way a man can intimidate the best golfers in the world dressed like a cream sickle or a pumpkin.
But he can beat them.
Fowler won the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club on Sunday. The tournament was the 72nd he’s entered and the first he’s won.
He went into a playoff tied with D.A. Points and Rory McIlroy.
On the first playoff hole, No. 18, Fowler hit a stunning approach with a 51-degree wedge. The shot was a gamble; to make it work he had to take a full swing and land his ball in an area not much bigger than a pool table.
The ball landed 4 feet from the hole, and then, cue ball in the corner pocket, Fowler nailed the putt for the winning birdie.
“I hit a perfect shot at the right time,” Fowler, 23, says.
In almost every story you read about Fowler, his clothes will be mentioned. But he’d be colorful if he wore gray.
He’s the kind of athlete publicists are paid to create. He’s charismatic and original and looks a little like actor Johnny Depp. Not the vampire Johnny Depp, but the fashionably disheveled Johnny Depp.
Follow Fowler around the golf course. His galleries include lots of kids who dress remarkably like he does. Oklahoma State might never recruit the young fans, but the PGA Tour and its sponsors will.
The galleries also include many young women, not all of them blonde. After Fowler landed in the sand on No. 16, a blonde yelled, “I still love you, Rickie!” Her boyfriend gave her a look. She expressed no interest.
Two minutes later a woman, also blonde, yelled, “Rickie, you’re beautiful!”
His swing isn’t. He largely taught himself to play, smacking the ball on a driving range near his California home. His buddy, Masters champion Bubba Watson, also taught himself to play.
If self-taught players continue to win, and the guy next to you in the unemployment line wears spikes and a crisp golf shirt with a logo, you’ll know what he does, or did.
Fowler was asked what his emotions were making the putt on the first playoff hole to win – relief or satisfaction or elation or all of the above.
“Keep going,” Fowler said.
He’ll be fun to watch and impossible to ignore.
McIlroy, who turned 23 Friday, will be the top-ranked player in the world Monday. Fowler, who says he and McIlroy have a friendly relationship, is a potentially compelling rival.
“Rory is the top-ranked young player right now,” says Fowler. “I’m probably the one that sticks out the most with color. Now I’m a PGA Tour winner. So I’ve got some credibility.”
The blue championship blazer placed upon Fowler’s back Sunday evening could have clashed with his Oklahoma State orange shirt.
“It toned my shirt down,” he says happily.
This won’t last, and nobody wants it to.