American golf has a new face, and it's smiling out from under a flat-brimmed hat.
Rickie Fowler has made quite the name for himself on the PGA Tour. The 25-year-old is easily recognized by his brightly colored tournament wear, which includes an all-orange-everything shirt and trousers combo that he reserves for Sundays - an homage to his alma mater Oklahoma State. His unique fashion sense and penchant for flat-brimmed hats, a habit that stems from his upbringing in Southern California, has turned him into the poster child for the sport's growing Gen X and Gen Y audience.
Social media king
While the PGA audience has traditionally been dominated by older men, Fowler's youthful energy has attracted a different set of fans to the sport. One need only look at the athlete's 627,000 Twitter followers and over 9,000 tweets to realize that the tides are changing in the professional golf circuit.
And the PGA couldn't be happier.
After Tiger Woods' fall from grace, the Tour has been on the lookout for an American golfer that the public can get excited about. Fowler's demeanor and style have launched him to the forefront of the search. He currently represents what the younger generation thinks is cool, and he is bringing that coolness to professional golf. As a result, a new crop of young golfers and golf fans are being turned on to the sport, including a large contingent of young female fans who fawn over Fowler's teen heartthrob good looks.
A new breed of sponsors
Fowler's sponsors include energy drink Red Bull, Puma, Crowne Plaza and Farmer's Insurance. These unique sponsorships reflect the new demographic that Fowler represents. Red Bull, for one, is more often associated with extreme sports (Fowler did used to race motocross in his youth) than golf. In addition, the Puma logo is more likely to be seen in a skate park than a putting green. But these brands are betting on Fowler to bring a younger crowd to the game of golf. As a result, Fowler has become one of the most ubiquitous faces in golf programming advertising. And his sponsors aren't relying on television broadcasts alone.
As a prominent user of social media, Fowler has leveraged the popularity of media sharing sites such as Twitter, Vine and Instagram. His sponsors have taken notice, attempting to create viral videos that feature Fowler and other young players. One result of this endeavor is the Golf Boys, a boy band parody group comprised of professional golfers Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan, Ben Crane and Rickie Fowler. The group posts outlandish videos online that include Masters Champion Watson golfing barefoot in overalls and four-time PGA Tour winner Crane dressed in a wetsuit and a helmet doing synchronized boy band choreography. The group's first music video, titled "Oh, Oh, Oh" has over 6 million views, while their follow-up production titled "2.oh" - and featuring a healthy dose of puns on PGA Tour Players' names - has just over 4 million.
The zany style of these videos reflects the viral pop culture of today's youth by showing a group of professional golfers who don't take themselves too seriously. It is this kind of energy that is attracting a new generation of young people to golf.
A new mentor
Rickie Fowler certainly has his work cut out for him if he is to live up to the hype. So far, his only PGA Tour win was at the Wells Fargo Championship in 2012. However, his recent partnership with legendary swing coach Butch Harmon, who previously coached American golf legend Phil Mickelson, is shaping up the young player's game. With the Masters approaching, Fowler is banking on his new swing to land him among the top finishers at Augusta.
If Fowler is to rise up to be the next face of American golf, he is going to need a rival. The competition between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson throughout the last two decades sustained the country's interest in the sport. Fowler may have his own rival in fellow millennial Rory McIlroy. The Northern Ireland native has already won a U.S. Open and PGA Championship, and was ranked No. 1 in the world during the 2012 season. Both Fowler and McIlroy have known each other since 2007 when they played against each other in the Walker Cup and Fowler's win over McIlroy in the Wells Fargo Championship may just be the beginning of the next great golf rivalry.
The emergence of Rickie Fowler as a young contender in the PGA Tour has led to a growing interest in golf among the younger generation. This new crop of golf fans and players see themselves in Fowler, whose cool factor has been utilized by various unconventional brands to capitalize on a growing market. Here is one player who is bringing a much-needed dose of West Coast cool to the professional golf circuit.