SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND | Tommy Fleetwood, 26, is dripping with positivity going into this week’s Open. The winner of this year’s French Open is far too unassuming to suggest that he’s about to win, but what he doesn’t mind saying is that he’s in a great place.
He’s home for a start. He was born and brought up in Southport. His picture is up on the lamp posts and there are assorted posters – including at his old school – wishing him luck.
But doesn’t it all add to the pressure?
“You could look at it that way but that’s putting kind of a wrong spin on it,” Fleetwood said. “I’ll have the most support I’ve ever had in my life from people I’ve grown up with – friends, family, you name it. And they’re all wanting me to do well. So I think it will be good and I’m sure it’s going to make me smile.”
Americans asked Fleetwood for a few non-golfing details about the town but, proud though he is of the place, the only thing he could tell them was about the links: “I spent all my time of the golf courses and that was about it.”
In his youth, there were times when he would “bunk” onto Royal Birkdale with his dad, Pete (they would slip in through a gap in the hedgerow at the fifth). He didn’t, though, recommend anyone in his audience to give it a try because, no doubt thanks to him and his dad and countless others, the club put up a fence and let the hedges thicken.
Fleetwood went on to describe Southport as being “up there with St Andrews.” The locals all say the same, but heavens how they will enjoy hearing it from the man who finished fourth in this year’s US Open.
That US Open effort told Fleetwood a lot about himself – not so much because of where he finished but how he felt on the Saturday and Sunday mornings.
“You can turn up and you can shoot two 66s or two 80s but inside yourself you can feel whether you can do it or not. I felt comfortable; I enjoyed it. Warming up on Saturday, all I wanted to do was get out on the course, so for me that was great.”
While he wasn’t happy with the way he played alongside Brooks Koepka that Sunday, he said he was neither out of control nor fearful: “I didn’t back away from any shots and I was proud of that. It was the first time I’ve ever contended in a major and, as I’ve said, I felt OK.”
There’s more to Fleetwood’s feel-good factor. His fiancée-cum-manager, Clare Craig, is expecting a baby in September; he’s happy to be playing alongside Hideki Matsuyama and Koepka on Thursday and Friday; and he was pleased to be able to report that his father, Pete, has been fulfilling a few dreams of his own. He has just got his handicap back down to 10.
Fleetwood, who has had his heart set on winning the Open since age 5, has mixed feelings from the Birkdale Opens of 1998 and 2008. In ’98, he remembers Tiger Woods walking past him and sensing that great champion’s aura. That apart, he remembers being so useless an autograph hunter that he had “to fake them” in my little book.
In ’08, he spent most of the week too miserable to care what was going on, the reason being that losing to Reinier Saxton in the final of the preceding Amateur championship at Turnberry had cost him his place in the field. “Basically, I was just a round away from teeing up in the Open and I was in a sulk because I didn’t get to play it.”
Needless to say, he hasn’t sulked in a long time.