News & Opinion

Fleetwood returns to Southport as talk of town

SOUTHPORT, England – Many young boys dream about winning the British Open, but few have the opportunity to grow up and accomplish the feat in their hometowns. Tommy Fleetwood will get that chance this week at Royal Birkdale.

With his distinctive shoulder-length, wavy, brown hair, Fleetwood will walk the fairways of his hometown links as the prohibitive favorite for many of the English golf fans and virtually all of the 90,000 or so inhabitants of Southport.

Las Vegas oddsmakers are not quite so optimistic. Fleetwood rated Monday as a 20-1 pick. He had been listed at 40-1 before last month, when he finished fourth in the U.S. Open, paired with eventual winner Brooks Koepka in the final round at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.

“I woke up on Saturday and Sunday and I got to the course and I was warming up and everything and I started playing, the one thing was how I felt,” said Fleetwood, recalling the experience of his biggest moment in golf. “That's the only thing you can go on. You can turn up and I could have shot two 66s or two 80s, but inside yourself you know how you felt, and you can feel whether you can do it or not. I felt comfortable. I enjoyed it.”

Despite his local roots, Fleetwood, 26, played Royal Birkdale only a few times growing up. He shared with the assembled media Monday that the best place to sneak on to the course, off the fifth hole, isn’t nearly as accessible these days after a fence was erected and bushes matured.

“You can't even get on to watch the Open anymore,” Fleetwood said. “My dad now walks the dog. You start to the right of the 18th green, and you can walk all the way around past 17, at the back of 16th green, eventually you get to hillside and it's all one long walk. It's a very cool walk. You can try; I wouldn't recommend it. I mean, we were very clever about it – or my dad was; not me. It's a lot tougher these days.”

Fleetwood won’t have any issues gaining access to Birkdale this week. He has risen to No. 14 in the Official World Golf Ranking after two victories this season: Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January and the HNA French Open earlier this month. Before heading to the Middle East, he ranked No. 102.

After Abu Dhabi, Fleetwood added runners-up at the WGC-Mexico Championship and the Shenzhen International and the fourth-place finish at the U.S. Open before his victory in France.

No Englishman has won the Open in England since 1969, when Tony Jacklin took the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.

Before the U.S. Open, Fleetwood struggled at the major championships, having missed six of seven cuts. A T-27 in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay stood as his only notable major result before Erin Hills. Fleetwood has missed three consecutive cuts at the British Open, but he insists that he holds the right frame of mind this year.

Fleetwood is engaged to be married, expecting a baby and using the positive energy off the course to feed his recent success in golf.

“Nothing really scares me,” Fleetwood said. “There's always things that faze people. The main part of it for me is how happy I am off the course. My life is fantastic. That plays a massive part in how you feel and how you deal with things. I do have a very good sort of psychologist that I work with. These days, my time management is a lot better. I meditate a lot. I know myself a lot better.”

With his face on lampposts throughout Southport, Fleetwood recognizes the significance that his appearance holds in this northwest coastal town along the Irish Sea.

“It's nice to see things like my old school did,” Fleetwood said. “They had a massive banner, and all the kids saying, ‘Good luck,’ and I think it's just lovely.”

To keep the banner up longer than a week, Fleetwood will have to scale the next hurdle and win the Open.  

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli