History boys: How 'Moliwood' became a Ryder Cup sensation
It’s becoming more and more difficult to keep up with Tommy Fleetwood these days. Not too long ago we were thrilled that he was even playing in majors – he made his debut at Augusta just 18 months ago – now we quite fancy him to win one of them.
Any debut is ‘eagerly anticipated’ but Fleetwood’s was particularly so.
Everyone loves Tommy. He’s unpretentious, he’s normal, he’s fun, he’s cool, he’s everything good. While others had played in Junior Ryder Cups or been steeped in the game from an early age he’d never even been to a Ryder Cup before for the simple reason that his family couldn’t afford it.
Not that Fleetwood wasn’t destined for something special from an early age. The newly-crowned US Open champion Lee Janzen was doing a clinic at Formby Hall ahead of the Open at Birkdale in 1998 when the American asked if anyone would like to hit a few.
The usual series of nervy mishits took place before a 7-year-old Fleetwood stepped forward and started ripping it down the range. Supposedly Janzen’s jaw dropped, along with the 150 or so gathered there that day, and the club looked after the youngster from that day forward.
Twenty years later Fleetwood came within a whisker of lifting the US Open himself.
There has never been any doubt that the now 27-year-old would make this team with lots of chat about he’s only a rookie in name only but he’s still never done it before and there are all sorts of new experiences throughout the week. He even had a haircut for the big occasion.
“I’ve known I’ve been on the team for a while now but it doesn’t become real until it’s finalised and the picks get made,” explained Fleetwood at the start of the week.
“Getting in that team room, arriving at the hotel, walking into your room, and you’ve got all your clothes, your outfits lined up, it’s really cool, actually. And without a doubt, putting the team colours on, it’s the proudest moment of my career. It’s very special.”
With all the good wishes and positive omens in Fleetwood’s favour – the win here in 2017 when he dropped only four shots all week – it’s easy then to worry that this would be the week when things hit the buffers a bit. Just when we’re all desperate for everyone to see what a talent we’ve got on our hands and what a top boy he is he’ll get turned over.
We needn’t have worried.
Even in the face of three lots of Tiger Woods, two helpings of Masters champion Patrick Reed, a round with in-form Bryson DeChambeau, and a foursomes with the poster boys of the PGA Tour, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari emerged with the perfect record.
To put that into some sort of context no other European pairing have ever gone 4-0 on the first two days. And no rookie has ever done that, either. Two slices of history for Fleetwood.
Incredible, absolutely incredible. Imagine coming into your first Ryder Cup alongside someone who had yet to win a match in six attempts and then doing this.
For a time there was some concern. In our heads you couldn’t have imagined a more fairways and greens partnership. They would surely slowly and relentlessly crush anyone in front of them. Yet there were three better-ball bogeys in the first nine holes.
There was a chance that we might have had another opening whitewash to follow what happened at Hazeltine, then it all did click into place with Fleetwood’s back-to-back birdies at 15 and 16 getting the whole European effort going.
“Tommy stood up and holed those putts and he gave a belief through them but also through the rest of them,” said captain Thomas Bjorn.
“You’ve got a former French Open champion and the Open champion. They just love playing with each other. I think they just have a very special bond and relationship, and they have for a long time, and they love being on the golf course together.”
For Molinari, who picked up his first full point at a Ryder Cup on Friday morning, it was even simpler.
“Finally. Finally. I love him. What can I say? I love him.”
Trailing 3-1 after an impressive opening morning from Team USA, but we then had the foursomes and we love a bit of alternate shot over here. And the wind picked up and these two, both heavy hitters of the ball, love a bit of wind. Come the 14th green Spieth and Thomas were done for which gave Fleetwood some additional play time with his little boy Frankie on his first birthday.
To watch Fleetwood and Molinari together it’s as heartwarming as it is impressive. There are arms round shoulders at every opportunity, little knuckle raps here, little conflabs there. Fleetwood would hit first, Frankie would drop in behind.
The contrast to Woods and Reed was startling. They lasted 15 holes as Fleetwood became the first European rookie to win his first three matches since Sergio Garcia at Brookline. Whatever happened from here they would be in profit.
What did happen was Woods and DeChambeau got another pasting. The pairing that got much of the pre-competition chat, with their ball testing and new dream team status, got humped 4 up.
Fleetwood and Molinari were the only foursome pairing on either side not to drop a shot. It was faultless.
Things were very different for these two a couple of years ago. Molinari had question marks over his putter for years while Fleetwood had the swing yips. At one point he rang his dad from China to say he couldn’t really do it any more.
Less than a week ago Fleetwood, after watching Tiger win the Tour Championship, tweeted:
Everybody watching at home, everybody that was right there when it happened. We’ve just witnessed the greatest comeback of all time! What a time to be alive!!! ? ?
— Tommy Fleetwood (@TommyFleetwood1) September 23, 2018
Things change and things can change very quickly. Fleetwood and Molinari will get the chance to win all five matches, something –again – that no European player has managed, while Tiger will start the day from an 0-3 position.
And you were worried Europe didn’t have anyone to replace Ian Poulter as the team’s talisman.