Updated: May 1, 2013, 1:50 PM ET

Fowler has substance to go with the style

By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

Rickie FowlerAndrew Redington/Getty ImagesDon't let the wardrobe fool you. Rickie Fowler has the game to go with the flash.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Rickie Fowler hears the whispers, reads the comments on Twitter, knows what is said derisively about him.

Style without the substance.

Flashy clothes, unimpressive résumé.

"Yeah, a lot of people say I'm overhyped," Fowler, 24, said Wednesday at Quail Hollow, where he defends his lone PGA Tour title this week at the Wells Fargo Championship. "I just dress up and play golf. ... No, I'm actually ranked in the top 50 in the world and a decent player."

Fowler chuckled as he said it and knows such chatter comes with the territory.

For several years, he has been discussed as one of the top young American players and has all but multiple victories to prove it. A playoff victory a year ago over Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points was long in coming and seen as a breakthrough, but a back injury plagued him last summer and a second win still awaits.

Fowler Yeah, a lot of people say I'm overhyped. I just dress up and play golf. … No, I'm actually ranked in the top 50 in the world and a decent player.

-- Rickie Fowler

"I've always had high expectations for myself," said Fowler, who has three top-10 finishes this year, including a tie for third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he played in the final group with winner Tiger Woods. "This year, coming in, I wanted to work on winning multiple times and then obviously playing well through the FedEx Cup and playing a little better, getting to East Lake [for the Tour Championship], the ultimate goal on the Ryder Cup team.

"So keeping the goals is still within reach, but I definitely have higher expectations of myself. I know I belong out here, and I know I can win out here. I don't ever want to show up at a week of tournament and not think I'm playing to win. I want to be in contention every week, and I want to be fighting for a trophy."

Fowler came out of Oklahoma State in 2009 with plenty of fanfare. He had a playoff loss and two top-10 finishes in his first three tournaments and cruised through the PGA Tour Qualifying tournament to set up his rookie season in 2010, which saw him picked for the U.S. Ryder Cup team despite zero victories.

In Wales, Fowler managed a clutch finish in his singles match against Edoardo Molinari, birdieing the final four holes to salvage a half-point and give the Americans hope for a final-day comeback.

But he failed to make the U.S. Presidents Cup team in 2011 or the Ryder Cup team in 2012.

After winning at Quail Hollow a year ago, he finished second the following week to Matt Kuchar at the Players Championship and tied for fifth at the Colonial. But he had disappointing performance in the major championships and didn't post a top-10 finish the rest of the year.

Some of that was due to a back problem that Fowler didn't fully get over until this year.

And he did show some promise, making a brief run at Woods on the back nine at Bay Hill, where an approach into the water at the 16th ultimately ended his chances.

"That was the first 72-hole event where I played without medication since the U.S. Open last year," Fowler said. "It's been feeling good, and I feel like I'm head in the right direction with the swing, what I'm doing with my trainer in the gym & making sure my body's healthy and working properly. I'm excited moving forward."

Bob Harig | email

ESPN Senior Writer

Guan's future

What's next for Guan Tianlang? The Chinese amateur acquitted himself beautifully in his starts at the Masters and Zurich Classic, making the cut in both tournaments and getting as far the third round in New Orleans before he made more than a bogey. It was an impressive round for any amateur, let alone a 14-year-old.

But now comes the interesting part. Guan, who has accepted another sponsor exemption to the Byron Nelson Championship later this month, is exempt from local qualifying for the U.S. Open -- by virtue of his Asia-Pacific Amateur title -- and will attempt to make it through sectionals in Dallas on June 3.

Either way, the hope is that Guan returns home sometime this summer and puts his efforts into competing against his peers. As impressive as his performances have been, some perspective is also in order. Guan played beautifully, but in the end, he made cuts and finished well down the list in each tournament. That's great for a 14-year-old; it's not so great as he gets older and tries to compete against the best players in the world.

Guan showed off a remarkable short game and an uncanny ability to hit long irons and fairway woods into par-4s. But aside from the pressure of making the cut, there is little in trying to improve your finish after that. Not for an amateur with no prize money at stake. Certainly not compared to a struggling pro, for whom every stroke could mean the difference in earning a significant payday.

It took Tiger Woods until his eighth professional event as an amateur before he made a cut -- at the 1995 Masters. But along the way, Woods was beating up on kids his own age, winning three consecutive U.S. Juniors and three straight U.S. Amateurs. There is a pressure that comes with being expected to win, and it clearly served Woods well.

Guan clearly has other issues to contend with as he gets older. He will likely grow taller, get bigger, become stronger. All of those things factor into the golf swing and how it repeats, and there are likely to be some setbacks along the way. Better to deal with them away from the bright lights of professional golf.

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