SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When Phil Mickelson emerged from the tunnel to the 16th tee box during the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Thursday, the packed gallery instantly recognized the local favorite and came to life.
Moments later, they cheered nearly as loud for the rising star decked out in green who might just take Mickelson's place as the tournament's biggest attraction.
At just 23 years old and playing his fourth Phoenix Open, Rickie Fowler has quickly won over the rowdy faithful at TPC Scottsdale, and the pairing could hardly be more perfect. It's not hard to see why the atypical crowds that fill the galleries of the Phoenix Open have fallen in love with Fowler. Since turning pro in 2009, Fowler has earned a rock-star reputation for his flashy outfits and youthful exuberance.
At the Phoenix Open, that kind of persona is embraced perhaps more than anywhere else. The raucous crowds love a player who stands out and offers an edgy alternative to the traditional nature of golf.
"Obviously, the atmosphere here is fun and can get a bit crazy at times," Fowler said Thursday. "So this is one tournament that I really look forward to."
Fowler isnt looking to show anyone up and doesn't want to seem cocky, but his personality has made it easy for golf's younger audience to root for him. The California native said he enjoys his young following, particularly at an event such as the Phoenix Open. He feels plenty comfortable -- maybe even more comfortable -- in the so-called party atmosphere of the event.
"You won't see me out late at night or anything like that, but it's a good energy," Fowler said. "People are here having a good time and cheering you on, especially come (hole) 15, 16, 17. It gets pretty hectic. It's a lot of fun to play this, because it's a lot different than most events."
Fowler opened the event Thursday by shooting a 69 to end the day 2 under par. In a nod to his burgeoning popularity at the tournament, he was placed in the morning's featured group with Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.
Mickelson, 41, may have offered one of the more stark contrasts to Fowler's colorful persona. Not that Mickelson is a stuffy traditionalist, but he's one of golf's active icons and owns 39 career wins to Fowler's zero. His PGA Tour career is in its back half, while Fowler's isn't even three years old.
Mickelson said Thursday he had fun playing with Fowler and Johnson. He even complimented Fowler's head-to-toe green outfit, one of the small signs that golf's establishment supports the youth movement and its benefits to the game as a whole.
"I like the way (Rickie) dresses," Mickelson said. "It's not for me, but I think he dresses really sharp, and a lot of people really enjoy it."
Fowler's flashy duds are the byproduct of his desire to stand out and a Puma sponsorship. Between the greens, purples and oranges -- the latter worn on the final day of tournaments as a nod to Oklahoma State, where he played collegiately -- Fowler is hard to miss. His young fan base has followed suit, as brightly colored Puma hats dot galleries across the country, particularly at the Phoenix Open.
"I have a great fan base and a lot of support from my fans," Fowler said. "It's definitely a lot of fun to play in front of them, especially all the young kids I have out there following me and the kids dressing up in Puma gear to show their support."
Fowler is one of a growing number of professional golfers attracting a younger demographic to the sport. With the rise of social media, it's become easier for fans to relate to pros such as Fowler, Johnson and big hitter Bubba Watson. Their no-fear approach has also won them plenty of fans who are longing for golf's next dominant superstar.
That "new breed," as its been called, epitomizes what the Phoenix Open has come to be about -- good golf and a lot of fun.
"I think a lot of the young guys like it here," Fowler said. "Not saying the (veterans) don't. I know there are some vets that think it's maybe a little too loud sometimes, but I love it here. It's got a lot of energy, it's a lot of fun to play here and obviously there's some great fans."
Fowler nearly won the Phoenix Open in 2010, his second appearance in the tournament, and last season tied for 13th. It can be reasonably assumed a win this weekend would please the masses.
"It's just a good match here," Fowler said Thursday. "I have a lot of fun here -- I've played well here, as well as at Grayhawk (Golf Club in Scottsdale). Some good memories, and I like to feed off those."