Rickie Fowlers love for golf is almost eclipsed by the affection he has for another sport involving a little more risk: getting airborne while riding a dirt bike.
A year removed from winning the Wells Fargo Championship at Charlottes Quail Hollow Club for what remains his only victory on the PGA Tour, Fowler still gets amped talking about the noise, speed and power that comes from racing an off-road motorcycle.
Thats a different vibe that he gets from walking up the 18th fairway at Quail Hollow where the Wells Fargo Championship begins Thursday or among the azaleas at Augusta National.
Theres still nothing I love more than being in the air, said Fowler, 24, who was riding a bicycle without training wheels when he was 2. Ive always liked speed and things on wheels, going out there and putting it all out there, being on the edge.
Dirt-bike racing eventually gave way to golf for Fowler. But hes managed to bring a bit of an X Games-style edge to the PGA Tour, whether its from the multi-colored outfits he favors to the hilarious Golf Boys videos he stars in.
When Fowler slipped on the blue blazer that comes with winning the Wells Fargo Championship last year, it produced a memorable fashion statement: it was worn over the all-orange outfit he traditionally wears on Sunday to honor his alma mater of Oklahoma State.
Before he got to Stillwater, Fowler grew up in the small southern California town of Murrieta, where he had other interests aside from golf. Most notably, he loved riding his dirt bike through the hills and over the bumps in the nearby desert. Fowlers affection for the sport came naturally: his father Rod won Mexicos Baja 1000 off-road race in 1986.
One day when Fowler was 14, he went over that edge, breaking his foot in a dirt-bike accident. That ended his competitive career in that sport.
Motorsports still intrigue Fowler. He spent part of his week off between the Masters and last weekends tournament near New Orleans at a motocross event in Austin, Texas. When he arrived in Charlotte this week for the Wells Fargo Championship, he joined NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne on Monday for a go-kart race in Mooresville, followed by a chipping golf competition.
I still ride mountain bikes and do some jumping on dirt bikes now and then, he said. Just not as much. I dont want to live life too cautiously. I mean, you can step off a curb and twist your ankle.
Dont make things more complicated
Luckily for Fowler, golf had always been at least as important to him than dirt-bike riding.
He began playing at age 3. By the time he was 7, he told his parents he wanted to someday play on the PGA Tour. When he was 14, he won the California state juniors championship.
Fowlers golf coach was Barry McDonnell, a third-generation Scot who didnt believe in using video to teach his pupils. McDonnell, who died in 2011, worked with Fowler at the Murrieta Valley Golf Range. McDonnell took no short cuts.
He was an old-school kind of teacher, said Fowler. For him, it was all about getting you on the range and working on your fundamentals, looking at your ball flight, what went wrong. He made the game simple for me. Thats always something I can think back on: Dont make things more complicated than they need to be.
Having fun for charity
Fowlers long hair, flat-brim hat and neon-bright wardrobe make him one of golfs more recognizable figures. He is also one of the Golf Boys, a group that includes fellow pros Hunter Mahan, Ben Crane and Bubba Watson thats made two tongue-in-cheek, humorous music videos (check them out on YouTube).
The Golf Boys videos, as funny as they are, help raise money for a charity that constructs clean water wells in Ethiopia (www.charitywater.org).
The main focus of Golf Boys was the charity aspect of it, said Fowler. Were helping give kids in Africa some fresh water, which is something we dont have to worry about here at home.
But the videos have also revealed some personality thats not often seen on the buttoned-up PGA Tour.
We want people to know were normal human beings, too, said Fowler. We just happen to be a lot better than others at something and were lucky enough to play golf. But at the end of the day, were normal guys who like to goof off like anybody else and have a good time.
Lower back trouble
Fowlers Quail Hollow victory remains the only PGA Tour triumph of his five-year pro career.
He stayed hot after leaving Charlotte last year, tying for second at the Players Championship a week later, then finishing tied for fifth at the Colonial two weeks after that.
He was playing as well as anybody on tour; good enough, he hoped, to win a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. But Fowler soon began to notice a pain in his lower back and it didnt go away.
Ive always put a lot of stress on my lower back with my swing, he said. It finally flared. By that time, its in the middle of the season and theres no time to heal, no chance to take any time off.
Playing in near-constant pain, Fowler struggled the rest of the season, playing particularly poorly at the majors 41st at the U.S. Open, 31st at the British Open and missing the cut at the PGA Championship. He didnt make the Ryder Cup team.
He used the offseason to rest and rehab his back.
Im swinging better now and the back is healthier, he said. I can go out and swing normally and play without taking Advil or any other kind of medication.
Hes working his way back into form this season. He tied for third at Bay Hill in March, but hasnt backed that up with much since, tying for 38th at the Masters and 32nd last week.
For now, Fowler is happy to be back at Quail Hollow, the scene of the greatest moment of his yet-young career. The Wells Fargo Championship is always rated highly by the players for Quail Hollows course and the amenities provided by the club. Fowler particularly likes the homemade donuts in the clubhouse.
I will be consuming a few of those when I get there, he said.
But he will also be working toward that second tour victory one he hopes would be followed by many more.
Quail Hollow is always going to be a special spot for me and winning there gave me a little more credibility, he said. But I want to be a multiple winner on the PGA Tour. Id rather look back in 20 years and see that Ive got 10, 15 or 30 wins on the tour. Then Id really think of that first one as being really special.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14