As he contended at the Players Championship earlier this month, David Toms talked warmly of his renewed passion for golf, given frequent outings on the course with his 13-year-old son, Carter. It created a nice image of fathers and sons and the game's power to bond.
And young Carter's favorite player on tour? Rickie Fowler.
Days after Toms missed a 3-foot putt to fall in a sudden-death playoff at TPC Sawgrass, one headline declared Bubba Watson's lack of interest in becoming "the face of American golf." Watson specifically said he hoped the PGA Tour wouldn't make him its "poster child."
This, on the heels of Carter Toms revealing his allegiance to Fowler, got us wondering who will become the next face of golf in the United States, comfortable in the poster-child role. It didn't take much contemplation to land on Fowler.
He's exactly what the game needs to connect to the next generation of fans. Fowler is young (age 22), on the fast track to stardom and oh-so-cool in many ways, from his motocross upbringing and lively tweets to his flat-brimmed hats and colorful attire.
This is relevant as the PGA Tour dives into negotiations for a new television contract (the current deal expires after the 2012 season). The tour needs marketable players to step forward -- preferably American players, because the tour targets a U.S. audience.
They must replace Tiger Woods, the moving-the-needle king. Woods is not done as an elite player, but his latest injury troubles serve as a reminder he will no longer dominate the way he once did. Plus, Woods will be 37 when the new TV deal takes effect in January 2013.
Phil Mickelson still carries clout, but he's too flighty as a golfer to take the torch into the coming years. He's never planted himself in perpetual contention, week after week, the way Woods did for so long. Mickelson also turns 41 next month.
So the top candidates to become the next face of American golf:
-- Fowler: Skeptics point out he hasn't won, despite wading in hype. Fair enough. But anyone who watched his captivating Ryder Cup comeback against Edoardo Molinari would agree Fowler is a special talent. He will win soon and often. He also brings a boatload of charisma, no incidental thing.
-- Watson: He's an intriguing possibility, given his prodigious power, left-handed goofiness and three wins in the past 11 months. But he's clearly not interested in carrying the banner. And do we really want a guy named Bubba as the face of American golf?
-- Dustin Johnson: He possesses the most raw talent in this group. Johnson also has severe scar tissue in last year's majors, from his U.S. Open implosion at Pebble Beach to his bunker blunder in the PGA Championship. Even he might not have enough raw talent to overcome ongoing course mismanagement.
-- Hunter Mahan: His would be a striking visage -- scruffy-faced, with long hair and dark sunglasses. Mahan's game, by contrast, is polished: He always seems to climb into the hunt (six top-10s this season). Keep an eye on him in next month's U.S. Open.