PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- If we want to know about the rise and fall and rise again of Rickie Fowler -- how he managed the expectations of becoming golf's Next Big Thing; how he handled winning at an early age and failing to immediately back it up; how he endured the parallel worlds of euphoria and frustration in coming so close at so many major championships without winning; how he dealt with such labels as overrated and overhyped; how he picked a uniquely opportune time to play the best golf of his life -- we can ask him.
Here's the problem, though: Despite his flashy wardrobe and aggressive demeanor inside the ropes, Fowler remains as boisterous as a pair of pleated khakis. When asked about criticism, he laughs; when questioned about his failures and foibles as a player who had won "only" once and earned "only" $16 million and ascended "only" to 13th on the world ranking before Sunday's breakthrough Players Championship victory, he casually dismisses it as if he were in on the joke all along.
So if we really want to know about Fowler -- how each of these successes and failures led him down this path, how they steeled him for this moment in the spotlight -- we should ask one of the few people who has traveled this journey alongside him, from reaching the PGA Tour before he was of legal drinking age to the biggest moment of his career so far.
His mother, Lynne.
Only, she nearly missed it.
For years, she has flown from city to city, walking countless golf courses while her son competed in front of unwieldy galleries largely outfitted head-to-toe in his signature orange ensemble and flat-bill cap screeching, "RIC-KIE!" But she left the TPC Sawgrass course before the round had finished.
With Fowler 5 strokes out of the lead and a commercial flight beckoning, Lynne and daughter Taylor loaded their two dogs into a courtesy car and headed for the airport.
"The whole thing, the pieces just weren't falling into place," she said of his title contention. "It was just another day, same routine."
It was supposed to be something special.
Rickie had turned Mother's Day into Mother's Weekend, taking Lynne to a nice dinner on Friday night to celebrate. He gave her what she called a "sweet" card on Sunday morning, but that's all she wanted. The gifts stopped there. His mother wanted the rest of the day to be about him.
And so after she received the card, she sent him a text message.
"Mother's Day for me was Friday," it read. "Today is your day. Do this for you."
That's a beautiful sentiment, but inspirational words alone can't carry a player to the top of the leaderboard.
No, it takes talent and guile and confidence and even a dose of moxie to make that move. After his drive on 12, Fowler found his ball buried near the lip in a fairway bunker. He successfully wedged an approach shot onto the green and two-putted for par. When history looks back on his accomplishments on this day, though, that will go largely overlooked for what happened next.
He birdied the 13th hole. Made par on 14. Another birdie on 15. Then hit a towering 3-wood from 243 yards away on the par-5 16th hole that carried the water by inches and rolled to within kick-in range for eagle. Two birdies on the final two holes would close out a historic stretch, moving him to 12 under for the tournament and, possibly, the championship.
Fowler's career has never been that easy, though.
When he won at Quail Hollow three years ago, it took a birdie in a three-man playoff to clinch it. And as he waited on the back of the driving range, a similar scenario unfolded. First, Sergio Garcia matched his score; then, Kevin Kisner.
It was another three-man playoff -- and the woman who'd been there nearly every step of the way almost missed it.
With Taylor driving, Lynne returned from the airport after her son's birdie on the 17th hole. They completed the 45-minute trip just before the playoff, then watched the first three aggregate holes from the scoring area. When Fowler and Kisner remained tied, forcing a sudden-death playoff at 17 once again, she finally emerged and watched it in person.
As if he didn't want to win until she was there, Rickie stuffed a wedge to 3 feet and won it with a birdie. Lynne bounced onto one of the game's most famous greens. He gave her a substantial hug, then hugged his sister and girlfriend, too.
"Very special to have all of them here," he later beamed. "Especially my mom for Mother's Day. I know she's pretty happy."
As Lynne was leaving the course just before sunset, her eyes started welling up with pride.
She was thinking about the long journey, traveling with Rickie from city to city for these first six years of his career. She was thinking about the high points, the low points, the accolades and criticism. She was thinking about how she nearly missed all of it on this day, but how he'd saved his best until she was there.
Then she thought about how it all happened on Mother's Day. She thought about that text message she'd sent him in the morning and how those inspirational words had come true.
"I don't ask for gifts like this," she said. "It doesn't seem like a gift. It's his gift. It's all his."