Rickie Fowler didn't start the PGA Tour season with a golf tournament, although he will tee it up in the Humana Challenge next week. He began the year in a Golfsmith in Oklahoma, where he put smiles on the faces of high school golfers who seven months ago survived a tornado that ripped through the area.
Fowler is from Murrieta, but he played golf at Oklahoma State and was in Dallas when the tornado struck in May.
He hasn't forgotten the life-altering event that continues to haunt so many who lived through it.
Fowler, with sponsor Farmers Insurance, held a golf clinic and question-and-answer session with about 100 golfers from three high schools. He struck up a friendship with Jake Reddington, a Moore High junior and tornado survivor, and they have become fast friends.
“Farmers has also helped me kind of be close with the relief and feel a little bit more attached,” Fowler said on a conference call Tuesday. “(Monday) we surprised one of the kids who I've actually been in contact with since the tornado, Jake Reddington. We're bringing him out to the Farmers Insurance Open to walk around with us on Wednesday inside the ropes during the pro”'am. So I definitely had a connection with him.”
After the tornado, Fowler gave Reddington his number and they have kept in touch. When Reddington recently got a new phone, he told Fowler his was the first number he stored in his phone.
Fowler has been happy to help provide some fun and relief for teenagers who shouldn't have such a heavy burden.
“He actually survived the tornado with his dogs in their bathtub,” Fowler said. “So actually being in touch with someone and staying in contact with someone who actually survived and (has) been through the middle of the tornado ... it makes me want to stay close and do things like what I did yesterday with the high school golf kids.”
After Fowler was done presenting each student with a new golf bag, he surprised Reddington with the news he would be going to San Diego to walk with him during his pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open on Jan. 22 at Torrey Pines.
“It's been great,” Reddington said in a text message. “It gives me something to look forward to and think about. Not everyone can say they've met Rickie Fowler, let alone get to go to San Diego with him.
“I'm really excited to go there and experience what he goes through weekly. But I couldn't have ever dreamt of this opportunity, and I feel it may have a positive on me and my teammates for this upcoming season.”
Said Fowler: “Hopefully, that will be a little bit of icing on the cake, and then we can continue to stay in touch and hopefully see him playing some golf in the near future.”
The 25-year-old Fowler is returning to the Humana Challenge for the first time since his rookie season in 2010. Since he grew up in Murrieta, he played plenty of golf in the desert and knows it well.
“I'm excited to start the year over in the desert,'' Fowler said. “I played a lot of junior golf and growing up playing junior golf in that area, so to be able to get back on my schedule to start the year off there, I'm looking forward to getting off to a good start and making 2014 a good year. So just excited to get back into the swing of things and get back out on the road.''
Fowler starts the new year with a new swing coach in Butch Harmon, too.
His presence in the desert is big. Fowler is one of the best young golfers — ranked No. 43 in the world — and he hopes the Humana Challenge will kick off a great season.
He already aced the start of the year with his visit in Oklahoma.