TOMMY Fleetwood heads into Masters week determined to mean business – rather than just enjoying the ride.
The Southport golfer will be making his third appearance at Augusta in perhaps the most glamorous of golf’s Majors.
But the 28 year-old admits the emphasis during his first two visits to the manicured fairways and azalea-lined holes of the most famous course in the world has been on lapping up the atmosphere of a tournament which is seen as heralding the arrival of the golfing season.
This time round the world number 13 is focussed on mounting a serious challenge for the coveted Green Jacket itself.
His climb up the world rankings, his success at being crowned Race to Dubai winner in 2017 and his record-breaking four-point haul alongside Francesco Molinari in the ‘Mollywood’ thriller of last year’s Ryder Cup means the Formby Hall player is attracting plenty of plaudits – and tips that he could be in the Butler Cabin come Sunday as the new champion.
His success is built on a team with strong local links including best friend Ian Finnis on his bag, Southport putting guru Phil Kenyon and swing coach Alan Thompson, from the Wirral, who has put hundreds of golfers on the straight and narrow.
“There’s no getting away from the fact that there’s a bit of expectation this time and so why shy away from it,” he admitted in an interview ahead of Thursday’s first round.
“Rather than going there simply to enjoy it, I want to embrace the fact that I’m now at that stage in my career where I’ve got a chance of winning a Major, and I can put my name on one of those trophies. I want to go there with the feeling that this is my time.”
Fittingly, it was at Augusta where Fleetwood’s rise to the world stage was confirmed as he found himself in the same group as Tiger Woods for the first two rounds on the back a fourth-place finish at the US Open the previous year.
“It was his Masters comeback after all his back problems, so all the attention was on our group,” recalls Fleetwood.
“I’ve always thought I’ve been pretty good at focusing on myself and doing my own thing but that might have been the ultimate test and I was pleased with how comfortable I felt.
“It would have been easy to feel overawed but I didn’t and that told me a lot about where I was as a player. I didn’t know what to expect but the crowd were great with me and I enjoyed the atmosphere.
“I’d just played with arguably the greatest golfer of all time, felt I’d proved my worth, and I could move on from there.”
Moving on included a third round 66, which included five successive birdies that had the fans roaring their approval.
“I came off the 18th green and said to Finno, that’s the best day I’ve ever enjoyed on a golf course. I made my contribution to the roars echoing around Augusta, of all places, and I just loved it.”
Fleetwood eventually finished 17th, but a final round 63 saw him shine at the US Open again, this time taking the runners-up spot, leading many to believe it is only a matter of time until he adds to his four victories on the European Tour with a breakthrough win on American soil.
And where better to start than with a Major!
Fleetwood admits he holds lofty ambitions in the golfing world, but family life keeps him anchored and he will have 19-month-old son Frankie with him for today’s (Wednesday) Par 3 competition.
“You don’t know where your career is going to take you. It might all go wrong and I might never play in a Masters again. So it’s important to keep things real.
“Whatever happens this year, because of the par three, it’s always going to be a week I’ll treasure.”