Tommy Fleetwood: Destined for Gleneagles?
SHOW me the shot,” my playing partner says softly.
I am standing in the middle (right half) of the 7th fairway on Vilamoura’s Victoria course and am just about to pull the trigger when my playing partner’s final instructions are delivered.
The scene is reminiscent of Ty Webb asking a blindfolded Danny Noonan to ‘be the ball’ in Caddyshack. As such, I break away from my zone-like state and descend into giggles.
“Still a good 8?” I ask as the barely noticeable wind continues to do nothing.
“Still a good 8,” he whispers.
Within a brief moment the flail of arms and club are completed and the ball sets off. And, for once, heads straight at its target.
“SHOW ME THE SHOT!” my playing partner now screeches.
Without wanting to sound too overindulged, pro-ams can be a bit soulless. Yes, you are playing with someone you might have admired for years but you don’t really chat, or get to know them, and you can feel like a bit of a spare part.
This was anything but. Tommy Fleetwood is one of the really, really good guys. Ask some of the European Tour staff who their favourites are and the Formby Hall youngster’s name soon pops up.
He is also incredibly talented. He turned pro off a handicap of +5 – as an amateur he got to number three in the world rankings, reached the final of the Amateur Championship at Turnberry, played in the Walker Cup and finished second in a Challenge Tour event.
Then, after turning pro, he topped the Challenge Tour standings at the first attempt helped by a victory at the prosperous Kazakhstan Open.
“I don’t want to use the word easy because it’s not but I felt very comfortable out there. I was playing well so it was great,” he said.
“Another thing that suited me was that there isn’t much coaching and it’s not a big circus like the European Tour. You almost want to fiddle around and change clubs because you can now. Then, you had a dozen balls for the week and you just played.”
It was while he was leading the order of merit that he partnered Padraig Harrington.
I was more nervous about playing with Harrington than I was about playing my golf His coach Jim Payne, with whom he has worked since he was 11, played Walker Cup with the Irishman and said to ask him as many questions as possible.
“I was more nervous about playing with Harrington than I was about playing my golf so it took me 15 holes to pluck up the courage to ask him anything. I asked for his best bit of advice to someone like me on their first year on Tour.
“He thought about it for a split second, he knew what he was going to say, and he said to just do your own thing and not get caught up in trying to improve so much because you have to. Looking back it was an absolutely awesome piece of advice.”
In his first season the Southport youngster produced his highest finish of the season, a tie for sixth, to keep his card in the last event of the season.
Last year he opened his account on the European Tour in a play-off at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles’ Centenary Course, home to the 2014 Ryder Cup.
With it, Fleetwood became the fifth-youngest winner in European Tour history.
“I was nervous at the start but I felt really comfortable with my game. I had been up there a lot of times and let a lot of good events slip in the run-in and my best finish of the year was still 9th. Then all of a sudden you put it all together and you win it so it was a bit of a surprise.
“If ever there is a course that suits my game then it is Gleneagles. I was quite calm. People wrote me off after 15 holes but I remember thinking everything was alright and I could still finish strongly.
“I had quite a good frame of mind that week, which is not something you get too often as a golfer.”
The obvious next question concerns this September, when every golfing eye will be on Gleneagles. “Paul McGinley said ‘well done’ in Wales the week after and to keep it going. I have played with him a few times and I asked him a couple of questions and he was very open with his advice and a great person to talk to.
“Maybe it is achievable but is not something I’m looking at. I had such an amazing 2013 and I only just got in the Seve Trophy which shows how hard it is to get into the Ryder Cup. There are a lot of players who are above me in the world rankings so I have to keep focusing and getting my head down and hopefully the Ryder Cup could just get in the way. It would be a dream but you can’t set your year round it and obsess about it as it could affect you the wrong way.”