It takes a certain type of European player to get the American fans behind him at a US Open and Tommy Fleetwood is a certain type of player.
After some of the over-refreshed comments aimed towards some of our leading lights on Saturday, Fleetwood shot the round of the week and very nearly the round of all time in the majors, and the New York crowds loved him for it.
For a good part of the Sunday afternoon at Shinnecock Hills it seemed that the 27-year-old from Birkdale might have done enough to play at least two more holes under the new play-off format or, better still, have become a third English winner. Remember Jack Nicklaus congratulating Monty at Pebble Beach in 1992 when he got in early? Well for Tom Kite read Brooks Koepka.
In the end the defending champion, and Fleetwood’s Sunday playing partner at Erin Hills 12 months ago, did him by one.
Having opened with a 75 and then dropped seven shots in eight holes around the turn on Mad Saturday, Fleetwood would need something special a day later to stand any chance.
And, 45 years to the day that Johnny Miller shot his famous 63 at Oakmont, Fleetwood somehow shot the same number. Nine over at the start of the day, and seemingly out of it, he then very quickly became the big mover on the day. Smiles after 50 and 25-foot putts at the 2nd and 3rd then turned to mini fist pumps as he picked up four shots in the first seven holes.
At the 12th we had a 20-footer, a short one at the next, another 20 feet from off the green at 14 and something even longer at 15 meant he was right in the middle of it all and, quite possibly, had already done enough with three closing pars.
In the end a slippery six-footer at 18, after another stellar approach, meant he had just missed out on a second ever 62 in a major.
“It was a little bit slower than I thought. I knew what the score was for, but if I could go back and give it a little bit more pace, give it a little bit more line. It was so steep, that green. It’s easy to just look at 16, 18, where I had chances, because that is essentially what it comes down to. But I made so many good putts.”
Playing a pro-am ahead of a European Tour event can go one of several ways. Despite the thrill of the whole thing it can very occasionally be a soulless experience as a player can barely raise himself to even start going through the motions, it is always a privilege but tinged with a general oddness to the whole thing or, if you’re lucky enough to team up with Fleetwood, it can be the most fun you’ve ever had on a golf course.
From start to finish a few years ago in Portugal he was sublime company; normal, funny, down to earth, interested and interesting and only bothered about the team. On the day his iron play was better than spectacular while his driving occasionally niggled him.
Come the end of the round we were doing OK as a collective and he took over the vacant position of my caddie by pulling my trolley.
We settled on an 8-iron, he began whispering in reminiscent tones of Danny Noonan in Caddyshack before finally delivering ‘show me the shot’ as I was just about to pull the trigger.
Having collected myself I managed to get one out to the middle and, in mid air, he this time screamed, ‘Show me the shot!’
After the round all shook hands and the three of us who don’t play golf for a living went for a pint to discuss our new hero. Halfway through the drink Fleetwood reappeared to apologise that he wouldn’t join us as he wanted to hit a few balls before his early start the following morning. If you’re not familiar with tour professionals this type of manners is pretty much unheard of.
You can’t fake being genuine and Fleetwood has it in spades. And, thanks to this very welcome trait, he’s always open and honest.
He’ll talk about the driving yips that he went through in 2016 which reached a low at Wentworth when he was struggling to keep it on the property.
“I rang my dad from China in May and I said I’m really struggling here. But the lowest point was Wentworth where I really didn’t want to play. I played the pro-am and we were playing ‘par is your friend’ and I reckon I hit 13 or 14 tee shots into trouble and then just walked the hole.
“I didn’t say anything to anybody but all I could think about was I don’t think I can get it off the 1st tee. I was giving Ian [Finnis] a lift on the Thursday, he asked how I was and I said that I could easily withdraw as I was that nervous.”
But class will out and after reuniting with his boyhood coach Alan Thompson from Heswall and getting Finnis on the bag, things gradually picked up after a boatload of hard work. At The Open at Troon that year he played 36 holes in practice on the Wednesday in a desperate bid to discover some positive feelings.
“One of my first lessons back with Alan we had two hours of practice and I was hitting it all right. To the right of the range is a tee so he suggested to finish off hitting some shots on the course. And I hit six 4-irons right into the water, they were all yips, I couldn’t let the club go.”
Since all that he has won twice in Abu Dhabi, Le Golf National where he will be back in September for his Ryder Cup debut, topped the Race to Dubai and is married with a little boy.
Fleetwood is something special and we’re lucky to have him.