Monday, January 05, 2015

  • By Alistair Tait
  • Follow Me: Twitter @GolfweekTait

  • Tommy Fleetwood has come a long way since winning the 2009 Scottish open amateur stroke-play championship at Murcar Links (pictured below with the trophy) and turning professional five years ago. He sometimes has to pinch himself to make sure he is not dreaming.

    Back in 2009, Fleetwood represented Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup. It wasn’t a great experience. GB and I was, in Fleetwood’s words, “hammered," 16 ½-9 ½ at Merion. It wasn’t the high with which Fleetwood wanted to end his amateur days.
    The other nine members of that GB and I team have failed to impress on the professional scene. Fleetwood has bucked that trend. Last year, he finished 19th on the European money list with more than $1.68 million to take his career earnings to just more than $3 million.
    “It’s a bit surreal, but it’s not bad, is it?” Fleetwood said.
    The 23-year-old did everything but win in 2014, with three second-place finishes, a third and three other top 10s. He’s marked himself out as the young golfer to give England’s established stars a run for their money in the coming seasons.
    “It’s been my best season so far,” Fleetwood said. “The only thing I didn’t do was win. Except for a dodgy spell in the summer, I’m pleased with how I performed.”
    Fleetwood improved his game in almost every area. He posted his best stroke average as a professional, averaging 70.37 shots per round. He improved in driving accuracy and greens in regulation percentage.
    My short game was really good, too, which is important out here," Fleetwood said. "The good players don’t waste shots and I managed to save myself a lot of times with my short game.
    “My last round scores were better than they have been the last two seasons, and that obviously makes a massive difference to where you finish in a tournament.”
    Fleetwood averaged 69.66 in final rounds last year compared to 71.26 the season before.
    English golf is in rude health at the moment. Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Justin Rose continue to impress on the world stage, but a supporting cast of young English players is chasing the marquee names hard. Fleetwood leads the pack.
    Fleetwood spearheads a group of players younger than 30 that includes Danny Willett, Andy Sullivan, Tyrell Hatton and Eddie Pepperell. All five finished inside of the top 50 on the European money list in 2014, with Fleetwood leading the way.
    It’s good that English golf is really strong at the moment because it pushes everyone else along," Fleetwood said. "You see guys you played amateur golf with doing well and it forces you to up your own game, as well.”
    Fleetwood has improved every season since turning professional in 2010. He topped the European Challenge Tour in 2011, becoming the youngest player to do so. That feat earned him a card for the 2012 European Tour. Fleetwood showed a lot of heart in finishing top 10 in the last counting event to move from 124th on the money list to 109th and retain status for 2013.
    The 2013 season proved to be Fleetwood’s breakthrough year. He won the Johnnie Walker Classic at Gleneagles after defeating Stephen Gallacher and Ricardo Gonzalez in a play-off. No wonder there was talk of Fleetwood making his Ryder Cup debut at the same course last year.
    “It was nice to be talked about as a potential Ryder Cup player, but I think I was always just a bit too far away from making the team,” he admitted. “When I finished second in China (Volvo China Open) in April it did cross my mind that I had a chance, but I didn’t think about it for long. The European team is so strong at the moment; making the team is going to take some doing. Even to be on the fringes of making the team proves you’re playing well.”
    There seems little doubt Fleetwood will add a Ryder Cup appearance to his Walker Cup outing. That’s for the future. For now, his goal is much more straightforward.
    “Top 50 in the world is the natural goal," Fleetwood said. "That’s where we all want to be because it means playing in the majors, WGC tournaments and all the big events. I’m like everyone else, I want to test myself in the best tournaments against the best players.”
    He’s done that pretty well up to this point.



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