Tommy Fleetwood might go for the carry on the odd dogleg but in life itself he prefers not to cut corners. When he tees up as a professional in this week’s Czech Open, he will be comfortable in the knowledge that he has proved himself over and over again in the amateur ranks.
What is more, he has bowed out on the most arresting of notes, having soared to third place on the R&A’s World Amateur Golf Ranking over the last couple of months. Having followed a runner-up spot on the European Challenge Tour with a pressure-packed win in the English Amateur, he pulled up in second place in the European championships in Helsinki.
Fleetwood’s Challenge Tour outing provided the perfect taster for life among the professionals. He had not known what to expect when he went to Stoke-by-Nayland but by the time he had finished second to Australia’s Daniel Gaunt, he knew that his timing was right. He was ready to make the switch.
Though three putts on the home green cost him the tournament, he found himself looking forward rather than back. “I definitely believe that I can compete out there,” he said. The winner, for his part, paid tribute to the way the teenager had put the pressure on him down the stretch. “What happened on the last green was unlucky,” said the Australian, “but I’m not going to feel sorry for Tommy. He’s got a huge career in the making.”
Fleetwood counts himself thrice blessed in having been coached by Alan Thompson, the professional at Heswell, and Jim Payne, the former Walker Cup golfer and Italian Open champion. Payne, who is as much a mentor as anything else, marvels at the way in which Fleetwood’s golf has come together in the last few months.
“For a long time,” said Payne, “Tommy struck me as a thoroughly good player but a bit of an underachiever. He was making every team with room to spare but he wasn’t doing quite as well as we expected. This year, though, he has made the step from top-10 finisher to shooting sub-70 scores on a consistent basis.”
In Payne’s opinion, Fleetwood is better equipped than most to move seamlessly into the professional ranks. “Tommy has precisely the right ball-flight to cope with big courses,” he explained, before adding that all too many amateurs have swings which are wedded to the links where they play most of their events.
Fleetwood’s temperament is also right for the job. It was on the eve of this year’s Amateur at Muirfield that he was summoned for one of those random drug tests. For some reason or another, the tests did not work at the outset and, much to the embarrassment of those in charge, he was kept waiting for more than four hours. Others would have been furious at having their pre-championship preparations interrupted in such a way but Fleetwood, when he emerged from the R&A compound, was smiling as per usual.
“Nothing fazes him,” said Payne. “His temperament is excellent. If anything, he’s a bit too humble, though the confidence he picked up in his Challenge Tour week is beginning to shine, through.”
Fleetwood’s one regret at this point is that he will not be around for the 2011 Walker Cup. In his opinion, amateur golf in GB and Ireland, with particular reference to England, is every bit as strong as it was in the days when Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Justin Rose were the big names. “I believe our team will win next summer … I’m just sorry I won’t be a part of it.”
Fleetwood, who led the English team in last week’s Home Internationals at Ashburnham, has loved his amateur golf and it was showing long before his recent run of success.
In 2008, when he surprised everyone by reaching the final of the Amateur at Turnberry, he could not believe his luck in being able to play one round after another over the famous Open championship links. From the first round of qualifying to the last of the 36-hole final, it added up to nine times – a tally which, as someone pointed out, would have set him back a little matter of £1,500 had he been an ordinary punter paying green fees.
Fleetwood has a dog called Maisie, a collie, who is almost always among his spectators. She walked every step of the way at Turnberry but, when it came to Glasgow Gailes and the 2008 Scottish Open Stroke-Play championship, she was not allowed on the course.
Only at the end, after Tommy had won the title by a resounding eight shots, did a volunteer notice this canine enthusiast champing at the bit in the car park. She insisted that she be allowed in for the prize-giving ceremony and, thanks to her, the now 11-year-old Maisie was able to sit at her master’s side.
In years to come, you would have to think that this celebratory picture will do as much as any other to rekindle memories of all that was best in Part 1 of Fleetwood’s career.