Photo: Left, Ted Mould (Junior Organiser), Tommy Fleetwood.
Book lover Tommy Fleetwood eyes an Augusta fairytale as long-haired 26-year-old says he is desperate to be a cut above at the Masters
By Derek Lawrenson for the Daily Mail
• Tommy Fleetwood is no stranger to success and his career is only getting better
• The son of a Tarmac layer has enjoyed rapid promotion as a professional golfer
• One of all of the English players, Fleetwood’s story is one that is one of intrigue
The trophy that came with winning the Abu Dhabi Championship in January sits on the windowsill of his Cheshire home alongside congratulations cards celebrating his recent engagement.
From the professional to the personal, everything is idyllic right now in the world of Tommy Fleetwood.
Next week, the 26-year-old will achieve another milestone when he plays in the Masters for the first time, a recognition of his pleasing rise up the world rankings this year from 99th to 33rd.
It is hardly surprising the golf world has particularly enjoyed this rapid promotion. The son of a Tarmac layer, who grew up in a house near Southport where money was short, Fleetwood remains so unaffected by the riches now surrounding him he gets told off by fiancee Clare because he never treats himself.
The collective admiration among his fellow pros has grown immeasurably for what he has achieved over the past nine months, when he has climbed out of a dark hole to become a match for the best players in the world.
Of all the English players currently making waves, Fleetwood might be the most intriguing. His long hair merely cuts the surface of an approach somewhat removed from your typical professional.
How many other top golfers are there who spend their spare time perusing the shelves of their local Waterstones, who never turn the television on in their hotel rooms from one week to the next?
Who meditate most evenings —’it certainly helped down the stretch in Abu Dhabi,’ he said — and who would have graduated to a life in the theatre if they had not made it at golf?
As personable as they come, Fleetwood is currently reading Great Expectations, and how appropriate that is as he gets ready to drive down Magnolia Lane. Finally.
‘Yes, there have been a few close shaves over the years,’ he says, smiling. ‘I reached the final of the British Amateur in 2008 at 17 and remember lying in bed the night before thinking, ‘If I win tomorrow I get to play in the Masters and the Open down the road at Birkdale.’ So I duly lost 3&2.
He will finally get the opportunity to head down Magnolia Lane when he arrives in Augusta, Georgia.
‘Then I finished 51st in the world at the end of 2014 when the top 50 got into the Masters the following April. Danny Willett beat me to 50th spot by fractions. So it’s been a longer time getting to Augusta than I would have liked, but at the same time there’s a ‘pinch me’ element to it this year, given where I was 12 months ago.’
Fleetwood was such a ‘can’t miss’ prospect when he turned pro it almost felt like he was underachieving in barely cracking the world’s top 50. Then, this time last year darkness fell — and make no mistake, it did. One of the great drivers had no clue where the ball was going off the tee, and freely admits he was close to panic.
‘I remember being in China last April and phoning my dad and telling him I didn’t know what to do,’ he said. ‘I’d never really struggled before and I found it difficult to express to people how bad I felt inside. My dad told me there was only one man who knew my swing as well as he did and that was my first coach, Alan Thompson. So I texted him and we arranged to meet up.
‘I practised for 90 minutes with Thommo on the range at Heswall, where he used to be the pro. Before we finished he said I should hit a couple of shots on the course. So I hit five four-irons and they all finished in the water. Thommo said, “We’ve got work to do, haven’t we?”
‘But at least he could understand why I was feeling so bad.
‘It was a lot of hard work and three months before I started playing even half-decent.’
When he got the message, however, all that glorious talent revealed itself. Since the KLM Open last August, Fleetwood has played 18 strokeplay tournaments and finished inside the top 20 in 14 of them.
In January, his first win in four years in Abu Dhabi over world No 1 Dustin Johnson got him back into the WGC tournaments that sit one rung below the majors.
When he finished runner-up to Johnson in the first of them in Mexico last month he was back in the world’s top 35 and nothing could stop him going to Augusta this time. ‘One of the first people I spoke to was Thommo and he told me it was his last dream in golf to go to the Masters,’ said Fleetwood. ‘So he’ll be there, with me and Clare and my mum and dad, and my caddie Ian Finnis, who I’ve known since I was 13.
‘My dad is going to caddy for me in the par three and it’s going to feel like an acknowledgement of how far we’ve all come.’
Fleetwood will go there as the proud early leader of the Race to Dubai. ‘Do you know up to this year I’d never been inside the top 10 and then after Mexico I was a million points clear at the top,’ he said. ‘Now I just want to keep it going. I’ve got a huge appreciation for how difficult the game is after my struggles, and how enjoyable it is when you’re playing well.’
Not only Augusta this year but the Open is back at Birkdale, so close to the family home his dad Pete still walks the dog past the front driveway every day. Naturally, the most exclusive course in Southport was out of range growing up. ‘It’s the course I’ve played least in the area, even now,’ said Fleetwood.
‘I started off at Southport Municipal and played most of my golf at Formby Hall. My dad was an artisan member at Southport and Ainsdale and I did my share of sweeping their paths.
‘We had nowt growing up, but as kids you don’t worry or think about it. I’ve talked to my dad about why I don’t think about money, even now, when it makes the world go round in so many ways, and I know my lacklustre approach annoys Clare (who is also his manager) sometimes. But what can you do?’
For the rest of us, we can only hope money remains a fleeting consideration and he sticks to his love of books.
Augusta may feel like a moment to pause and reflect but, with a clear focus, there is no reason to think there will not be more glorious chapters to come.
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