The big home favorite for this week’s British Open at Royal Birkdale is undoubtedly going to be Tommy Fleetwood. The 26-year-old golfer is not only local to the Southport area but is in a tremendous run of form that has seen him take the lead in the European Tour’s Order of Merit, the Race to Dubai.
He has two wins this season, in Abu Dhabi and two weeks ago in France. He finished second in the WGC event in Mexico and was fourth in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. So while home fans are aware of Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy winning majors in recent years, all the talk this week is going to be about Fleetwood.
“I think this week it’s going to be an experience for me I’ll never forget” Fleetwood said Monday when asked about the pressure of being the home favorite. “It’s very rare that you get a tournament this close to home. I know everybody wants to talk about that. It’s a massive privilege to be playing at a tournament so close to home, and it being the British Open.”
But will this pressure be too much for him? All too often British players, dating back to Colin Montgomerie and Tony Jacklin, have been lauded by the British tabloid press only to fall when the actual golf started.
“No, not at all, really,” Fleetwood said. “You could look at it that way, but that’s putting kind of a wrong spin on it. I’ll have the most support I’ve ever had in my life, from people I’ve grown up with, friends, family, you name it. Obviously, it’s going to be a different experience, for sure, something that I’ve never experienced before.”
The British Open has been held twice at Royal Birkdale during his interest in golf, but his memories of those events are not good ones.
“1998 was my first Open I went to watch,” he said. “I remember Tiger Woods walking past me. That was the first time I’d ever seen Tiger Woods, and the aura around him at the time. Apart from that, I don’t remember much about that, apart from I didn’t get many autographs.”
And as for the 2008 British Open that Padraig Harrington won, Fleetwood admitted he wanted no part of that event.
“I got to the final of the Amateur that year and lost,” Fleetwood said. “So that year I would have played in The Open if I had won the Amateur. So I didn’t really watch much of it. I stayed at home because I was in a sulk because I didn’t get to play it.”
His fourth-place finish in the U.S. Open, where he played alongside eventual winner Brooks Koepka, gave him his first real taste of competing for a major. And although he came up short on the Sunday, he took a lot of positives away from the experience.
“The main thing for me was how I felt,” he said. “I’d never done it before. And I felt if the time comes again when I’m contending in a major, I know that I can do it. Of course you’re nervous, but I wasn’t out of control. I wasn’t fearful. I didn’t back away from any shots. The first time I’ve ever contended in a major and I felt all right. That’s what I take away from that whenever the time comes again.”
So Fleetwood heads into Thursday with a lot of expectations, both from himself and the British media. He has played the three past British Opens and missed the cut in all three of them. But he views the upcoming week with a lot more realism than other players have done in the same situation.
“I’d much rather be in this position where people might be talking about me as a contender than turning up and sort of being a no-show,” he said. “Recent results have clearly put me in the eye and made people talk about me as a chance. I’ve won a couple of times this year. It’s nice to be spoke of in that light, to be honest.
“I find it very flattering and I mean, it doesn’t affect me in any way, apart from it’s very nice and makes me smile.”