It’s a sign of his growing self-belief that Tommy Fleetwood will head to the Masters this week with a new gung-ho approach.
Goodbye to the understated Englishman who went to Augusta the previous two years with the aim of enjoying the experience. This time, he’s turning up to win.
‘There’s no getting away from the fact that there’s a bit of expectation this time and so why shy away from it,’ said the 28-year-old.
Tommy Fleetwood feels ‘this is my time’ as he heads out to Augusta National for the Masters
‘Don’t get me wrong, I’m nowhere near the golfer I want to be or one of the favourites to win the green jacket, but rather than going there simply to enjoy it, I want to embrace the fact that I’m now at that stage in my career where I’ve got a chance of winning a major, and I can put my name on one of those trophies. I want to go there with the feeling that this is my time.’
It was at Augusta last year that Fleetwood began to realise that he had moved up another level. Fourth in the US Open in 2017, he was making a name for himself outside the European Tour, and duly found himself playing alongside Tiger Woods for the first two rounds.
‘That was an interesting experience for me, because Tiger was the one top player I hadn’t played alongside,’ he said.
‘On top of that, this was his Masters comeback after all his back problems, so all the attention was on our group.
‘I’ve always thought I’ve been pretty good at focusing on myself and doing my own thing but that might have been the ultimate test and I was pleased with how comfortable I felt.
‘It would have been easy to feel overawed but I didn’t and that told me a lot about where I was as a player. I didn’t know what to expect but the crowd were great with me and I enjoyed the atmosphere. I played pretty solidly, shooting level par for two rounds, and I was in position to make a move.
‘I’d just played with arguably the greatest golfer of all time, felt I’d proved my worth, and I could move on from there.’
Fleetwood was playing alongside Tiger Woods at Augusta last year for the opening two rounds
The benefits were obvious the following day, as Fleetwood carded five birdies in a row from the 12th on his way to a fabulous third-round 66. ‘It probably should have been better, given I three-putted the last,’ he said, chuckling.
‘Even so, I came off the 18th green and said to Finno (his caddie and best friend, Ian Finnis), that’s the best day I’ve ever enjoyed on a golf course.
‘When you’re growing up, what it’s really all about is playing so well the crowd get into it, and the roars you hear are those that you are creating.
‘That was me that day. I made my contribution to the roars echoing around Augusta, of all places, and I just loved it.’
Fleetwood was out third from last on the final day and suffered something of a reaction with a 74 for 17th place. Two months later he showed what he’d learned with a stunning final-round 63 to finish runner-up at the US Open.
His experience at the Masters last year proved to Fleetwood he is ready to push for the title
He was in contention again at the Open, before an iffy final-round 73 led to a tie for 12th place. Even his worst finish in a major that year, when he was placed 35th at the USPGA Championship, couldn’t tarnish an impressive set of results.
Then came the Ryder Cup in Paris, where he became a folk hero. Playing alongside his great friend Francesco Molinari, they beat Woods and his partners three times on their way to becoming the first European pair to claim four points out of four in the event.
There are such obvious similarities between them it would be surprising if Fleetwood didn’t look at what the Italian has achieved over the last 12 months, with his stirring Open victory and other successes, and think to himself: I want some of that. ‘You couldn’t ask for a better role model, could you?’ said Fleetwood, smiling.
Both brilliant from tee to green, their putting has improved immeasurably since they started working with the market-leading Southport coach, Phil Kenyon, who has also done so much for Justin Rose. The exciting thing for British golf is that Fleetwood is eight years younger than Molinari.
No wonder, therefore, he’s looking at this major championship season as the chance to open his account.
Fleetwood, playing alongside Francesco Molinari, became a cult hero at the Ryder Cup in Paris
‘I want to be the best golfer in the world,’ he said, simply. ‘I’m not saying I will get there and you have to say the odds are against me getting there, but if I fail, it won’t be for lack of effort.’
Fleetwood has been racking up the air miles this year. A self-confessed home bird, he has been flitting back and forth across the Atlantic rather than basing himself in America until May.
‘I totally get why people don’t want to do all the transatlantic travel, but I don’t mind it, I don’t suffer much from jet lag and it’s not really an option for us,’ said Fleetwood, who is married to Clare, his manager, and has two teenage step-kids at important stages of their education. ‘I also love being in the environment of the UK and particularly now the weather is starting to improve.’
So is his golf, after a slow start to the campaign. After winning the season-opening Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for two years in a row, it was a bit of a shock to Fleetwood to find himself out of sorts in the Middle East.
‘I had a couple of issues with my swing and my putting was poor, and then I had two tough weeks in California,’ he said. ‘But it was a big boost to me to play pretty well in Mexico, and then I had two tournaments in Florida in March, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship, where I had chances to win, so that was encouraging.
‘I feel my game is right where it needs to be heading to the Masters. It was great to win in Abu Dhabi the previous two years but the time when you really want to be playing well is now, with everything that’s coming up in the next three months, not January.’
Fleetwood is no longer unassuming – he is determined people know he wants to be the best
With the Masters so close, Fleetwood gave up on flying home last week for practising in Orlando. He is a member at Isleworth — scene of Tiger’s infamous car collision with the fire hydrant that changed his life irrevocably in 2009.
‘At Isleworth, they get the greens up to the sort of speeds we see at Augusta, so it’s really helpful,’ he said.
‘I’d loved to have gone home after the Match Play in Texas, but timing-wise and prep-wise this made more sense, and the family flew out on Friday, so everything’s good.’
Over the past 12 months, Fleetwood has made the leap to super-stardom with a grace and humility that ought to become a blueprint. His 19-month-old son, Frankie, will be with him for the par three tournament on Wednesday.
After a sticky patch in the Middle East, Fleetwood feels he is in form heading to the Masters
‘It’s amazing, isn’t it?’ he says. ‘You have your hopes and dreams and when Thursday comes around I’ll be completely wrapped up in the fact it’s the first round of the Masters, and I’ll be desperate to win a green jacket.
‘But, even if I walk away with a pair of 85s, I’m always going to have that experience of Frankie alongside me, in his little white boiler suit.
‘You don’t know where your career is going to take you. It might all go wrong and I might never play in a Masters again. So it’s important to keep things real. Whatever happens this year, because of the par three, it’s always going to be a week I’ll treasure.’
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