x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

UAE captain hails Ryder rookie 'mentally strong'

According to Abdullah al Musharrekh, the unheralded Fowler could yet prove an unlikely match-winner in Pavin's 12-man team.

Amid the controversy surrounding the decision by Corey Pavin, the American captain, to give Tiger Woods a wild-card slot in the US Ryder Cup squad, the surprise inclusion of a somewhat unheralded rookie has gone largely unnoticed. "Deserved," was the word Pavin used in explaining the selection of Rickie Fowler - a colourful 21-year old still playing his first full professional season - as his fourth captain's pick for the trans-Atlantic showdown at Celtic Manor in Wales next month.

According to Abdullah al Musharrekh, the UAE national team captain, Fowler, who finished 14th at the British Open earlier this summer, could yet prove an unlikely match-winner in Pavin's 12-man team. "Rickie's attitude and aggression are amazing and he is very mentally strong," said al Musharrekh, 22. "His game is perfectly suited to match play because if you look at his stats on the PGA Tour he makes a huge percentage of birdies. Obviously there are quite a few bogeys in his game too, but hitting birdies is vital in match play - it's what wins matches in the format."

The Emirati has first-hand experience of the American's game. Al Musharrekh competed with Fowler, then 19, at the Eisenhower Trophy, the world's leading amateur tournament, in Australia two years ago. "Rickie was playing a practice round with the US team when I first met him; they were in the group behind us," al Musharrekh said. "He was sticking everything close during practice, but when I saw his performance and character during the actual tournament I knew he was going to be a star.

"He goes for everything, is fearless around the course and he deservedly won the individual award in Australia." With a Ryder Cup spot secured, one might suspect that previous amateur accolades are now distant memories for the Californian. In his first year on the US PGA Tour, he has scored a pair of second-place finishes and thrilled State-side galleries with his flair, in terms of play and course attire.

"Turning pro is a huge step forward, but Rickie's made it look easy, like it's nothing," said al Musharrekh. "He's different from other players and he could potentially change a lot of things in the game. He told me one of his personal aims is to introduce another dimension to the sport; to be a different type of player as the game continues to evolve. "He's laid-back, relaxed and very easy-going; he symbolises the fresh, young generation coming into the game and he could be a huge commercial breakthrough if he achieves success at the Ryder Cup."

Even at these early stages of what looks like a long, distinguished career, al Musharrekh believes Fowler already has the weapons in his arsenal to compete with the game's elite. "He's really long with the driver, but it is his ball-striking which sets him above the average player," al Musharrekh said. "He hits everything true, but he's also got a great short game, too." Prior to turning professional, Fowler's prolific striking helped him break several of Tiger Woods's amateur records. He was the first collegiate golfer to be named American university player of the year as a freshman.

Indeed, it remains a possibility that Pavin might yet choose to enthuse the world No 1 by pairing him in Wales with the energetic, bashful Oklahoma State University graduate. Whomever Fowler partners, al Musharrekh is adamant that the experienced half of the pairing will have his work cut out keeping up with the young gun. "I'm not surprised at his rise," al Musharrekh said. "It usually takes even the top amateurs somewhere between two-to-four years to adapt to the professional environment, but it has not even taken Rickie a full season.

"He's had an amazing year. I think he will embrace the competitive edge of the Ryder Cup and I think he will be a key player for Pavin and the Americans." @Email:emegson@thenational.ae