Rick Dowling had a heck of a year. In a quiet, Rick Dowling kind of way.
In May he and partner Nick Taylor took their second consecutive Two Man Championship and a few weeks later won the prestigious Wilson Cup Invitational in Scarsdale.
He was part of the winning amateur side in the Julius Boros Challenge Cup in May, winning 4.5 of a possible 6 points at New Haven.
In June, with his father Richard on the bag, he overcame both miserable weather and a furious, 5-hole come back by Chandler Morris in the final to take his second Connecticut Amateur in three years, one up.
In early August he finished T2 in the Public Links at Wintonbury Hills, two back of a much-improved Peter Tomlinson.
Later that month he finished third at Shuttle Meadow Country Club in the Mid-Amateur, again giving himself a chance to win well into the final round.
Dowling’s play this year, consistent both in match play and stroke play, in a variety of venues and conditions, speaks to a the state of his game, and his head. Though his on-course demeanor never seems to change—he rarely raises his voice to anything but his golf ball–he will tell you he is not the same golfer who won the 2017 Amateur at Tashua Knolls and certainly not the player he was last year.
“I guess you could say I’m a more mature golfer. I’ve changed my approach to the game. I feel like I have a mindset, a growth mind set, where you’re getting feedback from every round, even bad rounds. I’m improving and not plateauing. That’s a great place to be.”
If that sounds a bit Hoganesque, Dowling, 26, confirms it. “Hogan said he learned something from every round, even the bad ones,” says the 2019 Dick Tettelbach Player of the Year. “I feel like I’m in that place now.”
As one of the principals of Junior Golf Hub, a consultative service for young golfers trying to improve and to make golf a part of their college experience and eventually their careers, he works closely with the coaches and teachers at Golf Performance Center in Ridgefield. The Center’s lessons in fitness, mental toughness, and tournament preparation have become part of Dowling’s approach. Like others who have benefitted from the performance center, he has a plan for every event and an improved preparation process for each.
“He’s methodical,” says partner Taylor. “He’s methodical and he’s a perfectionist. He is always there. You can depend on him always being in it.”
The “good place” Dowling describes—part training, part support system, part experience—was a huge part of this year’s success, he’ll tell you, but not the whole story. Motivation played a major role, too.
“What drove me this year was making the Tri-States team. I loved being part of the group in 2017, to represent your state and play as part of the team. I’m a very competitive person and it was really satisfying to be part of what is kind of our Ryder Cup. Our crown jewel. So that drove me. It was how I arranged my schedule and what I considered in my approach to each event. It really helped me view competition differently this year.”
As part of that CSGA team at Kirkbrae Country Club in Rhode Island this October, Dowling accounted for 8.5 points, helping Connecticut overcome a slow start to finish second to a torrid Massachusetts team that included Herbie Aikens and Matt Parziale, both of whom Dowling faced. Playing against the best, he says, was the whole point.
His approach won him Player of the Year honors decisively, some 253 points ahead of Mid-Amateur Champion Ben Day, who was slightly ahead of Ben Conroy, Patrick Griffin and Chandler Morris, bunched in third, fourth and fifth respectively.
“You compete with these guys and you’re all trying to be the best player that year, and it feels very cool, almost surreal to be that person,” says Dowling. “And to be doing it in this space with the colleagues and coaches I have, with their support and my family’s support, it’s hard to put words to it, but it’s really special.”
A reviewer once said of a great novelist that his writing “gives off sparks and flows like honey…it seems absolutely natural and inevitable.” That was Rick Dowling III in 2019.
With a lot of story left to write.