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From Hillside to Bethpage Black

By Richard Williamson

LAST week Southport. This week New York. Barely had the winning putt dropped and the trophy handed over to new Betfred British Masters champion Marcus Kinhult than tournament host Tommy Fleetwood was heading to the airport.

Next up is the second Major of the year, the US PGA Championship over the demanding Bethpage Black course at Farmingdale.

The scheduling of the two events on opposite sides of the Pond so closely together had shorne the European Tour event at Hillside Golf Club of some of its stellar names such as a McIlroy, Poulter or Rose.

But those who committed to supporting one of British golf’s flagship events, such as runner-up Matt Wallace, boarded a specially chartered plane from Manchester on Sunday evening to make the dash to New York.

Home town boy Fleetwood admitted the demands of promoting the event in Southport had finally taken its toll as his own championship challenge faltered with a final day 73 which led to a share of eighth spot on ten under, six behind the winner.

The 28 year-old had not put a foot wrong as host – and was rewarded as approaching 65,000 spectators flocked to a links course staging its first major pro event since 1982 and which will now be talked of in the same breadth as its illustrious neighbour and Open venue, Royal Birkdale. A return is surely on the cards.

As well as countless promotion and media demands on his time, Fleetwood wanted to get out and say thanks to the club officials, members and volunteers who had helped make the event such a resounding success – which is why Saturday night saw him alongside greenstaff replacing divots.

But the four-time European Tour winner insists he will be refreshed and ready for the American challenge – even if he will be taking something of a back seat after seeing his face plastered over the side of buses in Masters week.

“I hope I am not too anonymous at the end of the week,” he laughed when discussing his prospects of adding his first Major. That’s unlikely anyway, given his runners-up finish in last year’s US Open and his Ryder Cup exploits.

“I haven’t played competitively the week before a Major for a while so this will be interesting seeing how that goes. But there will be plenty of time for practice once I get over there.

“The courses are very different but Bethpage is somewhere I’m looking forward to. I really like golf in America, so I’ll enjoy it.”

Added a player who has remarkably not missed a cut in his last 26 appearances: “I’m looking forward to having a great week. It would be brilliant to be contending and see if I can do it.

“I swung it pretty well at the British Masters but it all caught up with me on Sunday. I think it maybe hindered my competitiveness towards the end and I got a little bit tired.”

Fleetwood had insisted all week that he wanted to see the tournament thrive every bit as much as staking his claim to the trophy itself – given how starved the north west is of top class, big name golf.

“It was not about me – even though I was the face of the event. It was about bringing something special to the golf fans in the north west and I hope we did that. Everybody involved did a fantastic job.

“The Open is played here, but that only comes round every nine years, so it was great to be able to bring an event like this to the area.

“There were a lot of new experiences for me, too, but I enjoyed it and learnt a lot from being involved. It also gave us the chance to launch an academy, something I had wanted to do and which will give kids the chance to learn and play.”

And if they asked Tommy to do it all over again …

The answer was as emphatic as the success of the event … Yes!