Chink, clink, smash. That’s the sound of gin and tonics being dropped in clubhouses the world over as traditionalists convulse at a man sporting high-top trainers and track pants winning a professional golf tournament.
“Rickie rocks” is the alternative shout from the more youthful spectrum of the golf fraternity watching Rickie Fowler’s European Tour victory in Abu Dhabi.
Whichever camp you are in, there is no doubt the young American — the ‘”Pied Piper” of cool for the Snapchat generation — moved the needle with his “nu-skool” gear, blowing a tornado through the fusty fashion of the golf world.
Rather than being all mouth and no trousers, Fowler walks the talk. A golf game that has taken him to a career-high fourth in the world, and a splendid collection of strides — some even with elasticated legs.
With Tiger Woods in serial decline and other big names of his generation such as Phil Mickelson the wrong side of 45, golf is desperate for a new scene and new stars.
Jordan Spieth’s stellar 2015, alongside Rory McIlroy’s rise and Jason Day’s dawning, led many to suggest there was a new “Big Three” to match the legendary rivalry of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player back in the day.
The narrative was neat, except Fowler has muscled his way in. Before it could even take off, the “Big Three” has become the “Fab Four.” As the Guardian’s golf writer Ewan Murray put it: “Golf’s aristocracy has been enlarged to a quartet.”
“The three of them have played amazing,” Fowler told reporters after his Abu Dhabi success, reflecting on the achievements of Spieth, Day and McIlroy. “The ultimate goal this year is to win a major … then maybe I can join the crew.”
Spieth, however, is not convinced there is a three or even four-man elite, saying any of the top five to 10 players in the world can make their mark. “I think it’s still too early for this talk,” he was quoted as saying in the Guardian.
‘Rock star’ golfers
Golf has had other rivalries since the Palmer, Nicklaus, Player axis but since the Woods era began in 1997 there have been few consistent contenders for his crown. David Duval, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Mickelson all had a pop, but in his pomp Tiger was untouchable.
Now, though, just when reports suggested golf was plunging in popularity and playing numbers, along comes a fresh breed of “rock star” golfers.
The 22-year-old Spieth leads the pack as world No.1 after landing back-to-back majors last year and coming mighty close to three in a row before clinching the season-ending FedEx Cup. The Texan might not be exactly rock ‘n roll but as a role model with a touch of X-Factor he is exemplary.
“Tiger, Phil, Rory, these guys have done more in the game of golf than I have, and I want to strive to get to what they have done,” Spieth told reporters in Abu Dhabi. “I want my name to go down in history for as many things as it can. That’s where my mind is, as I’m less satisfied with what’s happened and more hungry to try and keep it going.”
At 28, Day is the group’s grandpa but his breakthrough major at last year’s U.S. PGA in the middle of a formidable run of results has elevated him to world No. 2.
He might lack the mojo of the others, but Day makes up for it with a compelling backstory — the loss of his father when he was 12, drinking and trouble as a teenager, the death of eight relatives in Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and an ongoing battle with vertigo.
The 26-year-old McIlroy already has four majors to his name and the former world No.1 might have had more had it not been for a soccer injury that robbed him of a chunk of last year.
When McIIroy landed the 2014 U.S. PGA title, weeks after winning the British Open crown at Hoylake, he joined Woods, Nicklaus and the amateur Bobby Jones as the only players in the last century to win four majors before turning 26.
The Northern Irishman just needs the Masters to complete the set, a career grand slam of all four major titles. Just five players have achieved that feat — Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Player, Nicklaus, and Woods.
He might be one of the shorter guys on tour, but McIlroy hits the ball a mile, which raises the public pulse, plus he is open, honest and the kids love him.
“I love his moxie. He’s got a little swagger there, it’s a little bit cocky but not offensive,” Nicklaus told reporters in 2014.
Dirt bike fan
And then there is Fowler.
Known for his orange outfits on a Sunday in homage to his alma mater Oklahoma State, and a penchant for oversized baseball caps, it would be easy to dismiss the California kid as clothes horse first, golfer second.
But Fowler, 27, has a feat of his own — in 2014 he joined Nicklaus and Woods as the only players to have finished in the top five of all four modern majors in a season.
He may not have landed one of the big prizes yet, but with victory in last year’s Players Championship — dubbed the “fifth” major — as well as the Scottish Open and prestigious Deutsche Bank Championship, the dirt bike fan with the Elvis looks has shown you can be cool and competitive.
The fact Fowler beat Spieth and Mcllroy in Abu Dhabi — plus the then fifth-ranked Henrik Stenson for that matter — gives further credence to his “Fab Four” claims.
Even so, with Spieth, Day and McIlroy having swapped top spot in the rankings since August 2014 — and with five of the last six majors between them — Fowler knows he still has some work to do.
“I’ve got my eye sight on No.1, that would be the ultimate goal, but I’m up against some pretty tough competition,” Fowler told reporters in Abu Dhabi.”
In the big picture, the golf season building up to the Masters will be a lengthy dress rehearsal.
Augusta in April will provide the spectacular stage on which to showcase the talents of the “Fab Four.”
Who can twist and shout to best effect remains to be seen. Just no running at the Masters.