PGA Championship 2021: Rickie Fowler's battles with Michael Jordan helped him through slump

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Rickie Fowler’s slump isn’t over yet, but he’s certainly off to a promising start on Kiawah Island.

Fowler’s crediting that, in part, to Michael Jordan.

Fowler, who has fallen more than 100 spots in the Official World Golf Rankings since 2019, revealed Thursday after his opening round at the PGA Championship in South Carolina that he’s struck up a golf rivalry with the Hall of Famer in recent months.

Though Jordan is an avid golfer and can frequently shoot in the 70s, Fowler said he still has to give the former Chicago Bulls legend 10 strokes anytime they play. And, with how competitive Jordan is with everything he does, that makes their matches extremely difficult.

“I was 7-under par through 17 holes [recently] and I lost,” Fowler said. “And he’s not quiet about it. Playing against MJ is as good as it gets for prep.”

Fowler is one of the lucky few who have gotten to play Jordan’s exclusive Grove XXIII course in South Florida, which has less than 100 members.

While playing there undoubtedly gives Jordan an advantage, Fowler said any round where he keeps cash in his pocket is a good one.

"I think not having to hand over any money to MJ has been probably some of the bigger wins because of how Grove sets up for him, where he's able to press [various wagers]," Fowler said. "If I'm able to win the original match and lose — not have him flip the original match because of the press or multiple presses. So if I don't lose money to him, that's actually a win."

Fowler opens PGA Championship with 1-under 71

Fowler is in a great position after Thursday’s opening round at the PGA Championship.

He posted a 1-under 71 and sat just two back from the leaders upon arrival at the clubhouse in the early wave, with his only stumble coming in the form of a pair of bogeys in three holes on his back nine. He ended the day just four shots back from leader Corey Conners.

"I'm starting to feel pretty darn good," he said. "The last few months, it's been a lot more just go play golf and not play golf swing. Put a lot of time in prior to the last few months of working on swing and doing the stuff we kind of needed to work on and accomplish. Now it's just go play golf.”

The 32-year-old has five PGA Tour wins to his name, though he hasn’t won since the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open. Fowler had just two top-10 finishes last season, and has missed the cut seven times already this year — including the past two weeks at the Wells Fargo Championship and AT&T Byron Nelson.

He didn’t qualify for the Masters last month, marking the first time in more than a decade that he’s not played at Augusta National, and is only competing this week on a special exemption.

Fowler, who once climbed as high as No. 4 on the Official World Golf Ranking, now sits down at 128.

Though it’s been a struggle, Fowler is happy with where he’s at 18 holes into the PGA Championship — where a solid performance would undoubtedly do wonders both for his game, and his confidence.

“Yeah, it’s been tough,” Fowler said. “Especially knowing that at times, tee to green, it’s been a lot better than what things may show or look. Partly because of things not potting well or just not having the ball go in.

“A lot of it is just you start to see some putts go in, and the hole starts to look a lot better, but as soon as you miss a few, it starts to shrink up on you. That’s currently where things have been. It’s nice to at least make some putts today. I hit some good putts, and I kind of attribute that to the work we put in earlier this week.”

Rickie Fowler plays his shot from the third tee during the first round of the 2021 PGA Championship
Rickie Fowler, now No. 128 in the world, posted a 1-under 71 on Thursday to open the PGA Championship. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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