• Fowler is among the favourites to land the coveted gold medal.
  • Golf is returning to the Olympics this summer after a 112-year absence.

Amid the relatively placid world of professional golf, Rickie Fowler stands out. The 27-year-old American, who sported Justin Bieber-esque haircuts during his rise to the top, has taken an unconventional route to Rio de Janeiro.

Born and raised in Murrieta, California, Rick Yutaka Fowler – whose middle name comes from his grandfather, Taka Tanaka – divided his sporting interests during his early life between golf and dirt-bike riding. His father, Rod, relished riding dirt bikes and won the 1986 Baja 1000 for a Yamaha team.

However, Rickie turned his back on the adrenaline-fuelled sport after suffering an accident just before he was due to attend high school that left him nursing a couple of broken bones in his foot. From there on, Rickie – who attends weekly Bible studies on tour – focused his gaze on making it as a professional golfer.

With an almost entirely self-taught playing method, he became the No1-ranked amateur golfer in the world for 37 weeks in 2007 and 2008, helping the US to win the 2007 Walker Cup en route. Two years later, Fowler decided to turn professional, finishing tied for seventh at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, his first PGA Tour event.

Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler is targeting a gold medal in Rio this summer. Getty Images

His status as one of the sport's rising and most marketable stars was underlined in the same year, when he signed a multi-year equipment deal with Titleist and agreed another sponsorship deal with Rolex. It was apparent Fowler had the talent to make it to the top – and the brands were keen to jump on board.

In 2010, won the Rookie of the Year award, controversially being given the coveted gong over Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy. But while McIlroy has since progressed his game to win multiple Major titles, Fowler's career appears to have reached a glass ceiling.

Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler playing in 2010 Getty Images

Fowler, for all of his talent and early promise, has won only six tour titles to date and has become increasingly known for his off-course activities rather than his achievements on it. In 2011, for instance, Fowler – who has his grandfather's name in Japanese script tattooed on his left biceps – appeared alongside fellow PGA Tour players Ben Crane, Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan in a YouTube video of the song 'Oh Oh Oh'.

That the video – which was made in support of Farmers Insurance and Ben Crane charitable initiatives – received more column inches than Fowler's performances says something about his career trajectory, perhaps. But having been selected for the US golf squad and with a number of high-profile rivals having chosen to skip Rio 2016, the stage is set for Fowler to finally realise his potential.

McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth have all pulled out of the event in Brazil, citing fears about the Zika virus, which has been linked to brain defects in newborn babies. But their loss could be Fowler's gain as he seeks to win the first Olympic gold medal in 112 years. The question is: has Fowler got the substance to match his style?