15th December 2011

Formby Hall golf star Tommy Fleetwood aiming to keep his feet firmly on the ground

VERY few golfers have entered the ultra-competitive arena of the European Tour with such a heavy weight of expectation on their young shoulders as Tommy Fleetwood.

Many observers have instantly ditched the ifs and buts about what may happen in his rookie year in favour of it being a case of when the 20-year-old Merseysider pockets his first top-tier title among the golfing elite. But that is hardly surprising given the Southport player’s pedigree.

A distinguished amateur career saw him play in the Walker Cup, win both English and Scottish amateur championships and rise to become the world’s number one amateur scratch player. After making the switch to the professional ranks a little over 12 months ago, Fleetwood climbed to the summit of the European Challenge Tour rankings, helped by a maiden win at the Kazakhstan Open, and an immediate promotion to join the game’s household names like Westwood, Donald and Harrington.

There are many who will tell you that in the years ahead a new name will join that exalted company – Fleetwood.

Except, that is, for the young man at the centre of all the attention.

Enjoying a morning off from the practice range at his home club, Formby Hall ahead of this week’s appearance at the Thailand Open, Fleetwood was unfazed by predictions of approaching golfing greatness, preferring instead to talk about the hard work that lies ahead, the improvements he needs to make to his game and the tough challenge of breaking into the winner’s enclosure in a sport where every one of your fellow competitors is a potential champion.

“The fact that people are expecting me to do well is great, because it shows I have achieved things in the past and hopefully that will carry on,” he said. “It was the same when I joined the Challenge Tour, although halfway through the year I had lived up to nothing.

“What matters to me is that I carry on doing the things that have served me well, that I work hard and play well.

“I have to concentrate on keeping my feet on the ground while retaining my card next year will be a first priority.

“I am looking forward to getting out there, but I know it will be tough. If I don’t play well, I won’t keep my card. You are playing against the best in the world and there are so many players with the potential to win each event.

“The courses will be tougher, even though there are plenty of good venues on the Challenge Tour, and I think I will have to drive the ball better.

“The margin for error is smaller and if you do hit a bad shot you are punished for any mistakes. The rough is that much more penal.

“I also want to work on my wedges because the short game is so important while I would like to start the year physically stronger, too. I putted well this year, but you can always improve on the greens as that is where you score. But I don’t feel the pressure of having to achieve things.

“It has happened quickly for me – I am a Tour player at just 20 – but over the years the work I have done with the English Golf Union and playing in top events like the Walker Cup all helped prepare me for life as a pro.”

Fleetwood should, at least, be used to being tipped for stardom. Dad Pete, who was his caddy in Kazakhstan, has always said he would be a future world number one while two members at Southport Municipal, where he started out, took out a wager at the bookies before he even turned pro that he would go on to become an Open champion.

The mantelpiece at the family home was left groaning under the weight of the many and varied trophies Fleetwood picked up, first with Sefton Juniors and later as a schools champion, Lancashire county player and England international.

While the trophies started piling up from an early age, it was not until he was 13 or so that the idea of becoming a tournament player took a firm hold.

“Up until the age of 13 or 14 it was just for fun,” he explains, “but at that age I just knew it was what I wanted to do.

“I had enjoyed some success and wanted more. I have always practised hard – although my school work did start to slip!”

Fleetwood’s commitment to honing his skills has helped propel him to the top level of European golf, but he feels his golfing experiences across the globe have helped him grow up.

He says: “Not many 20 year-olds get to do what I am, so it has probably helped me mature a bit more.

“I now need to keep working on my game, improving. If I find myself on a tee alongside the likes of a Westwood and McIlroy next year it will be a great opportunity to learn from the best. I believe that if I keep working hard and concentrating on what is right for me, I can be competitive against them.”

And few would bet against that.

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