A Quick Nine With Tommy Fleetwood

Ryan Asselta
Sports Illustrated

Since his introduction to the American golf world at the 2018 U.S. Open, where he shot a final-round 63 to finish second by a single stroke, Englishman Tommy Fleetwood has become a full-fledged fan favorite.

Despite being European and a major factor in the U.S. Ryder Cup loss Paris—he and Francesco Molinari formed the “Moliwood” pairing that went 4-0 in the team sessions—Fleetwood has been embraced on this side of the pond. But behind the flowing hair, the quick smile and the friendly accent is a strong desire to win. Actually, an expectation to win. Fleetwood has won, to be fair, but never in the United States, and it’s something that fuels his relentless work ethic.

SI.com’s Ryan Asselta recently caught up with the world No. 13 as he prepared for this week’s Tour Championship.

He opened up about American golf, his closest friends on Tour and even pizza in Kazakhstan.

Ryan Asselta: This year seems to have been a season of close calls for you. Two runner-up finishes, a third, a fourth. How much does getting close, yet coming up short, drive your desire to win? 

Tommy Fleetwood: Well, I think it's important and I think there's so many positives to take from it. I would of course rather win events, but the consistency in my game has been great.  

For me, the stages I’ve got to in my career, I’ve been able to reach them, level off and then move on to the next stage of my career. These couple of years have been great for me. There are definitely events I could have knocked off and won, and I think back, “God, if I could have just done this”. But “if.” doesn’t exist.

The consistency is there. There hasn’t been a win, but there’s been enough positives there. It’s just about the odd mistakes I’ve made, or someone just played better. Hopefully, in time, the wins will come. But I’m very happy about the level of consistency I’ve had.

RA: Which feeling is stronger for you…the joy of winning or the frustration of not winning?

TF: I think it's important to know that, clearly, winning is a massive goal for me. I’m not going to say I need to make cuts, or finish in the top 10 or top 5. I’ve been doing all of those things. So, my clear goal is to win.

I think it’s something great to picture and keep your mind on. I might be disappointed on some Sundays when I didn’t do the things I wanted to, but I keep the positives in my mind. I know what it’s like to win. I’ve won on the European Tour. I just haven��t won in a while and I haven’t won on the PGA Tour. I keep that feeling of winning on my mind and I just keep working towards that.

RA: Speaking of winning, you've won in different places around the world. Your first career win was in Kazakhstan! What’s a victory celebration like in Kazakhstan?

TF: (Laughter) My Dad was my caddy and I think we had pizza and beer to celebrate. The two of us and one of my mates who was playing on tour as well. And the pizza was quite good actually. They had a pizza oven and everything. It was beautiful!

We had dinner to celebrate and then we moved on to the next tournament. I do remember getting bit by the winning bug though. The very next day I was up at 4 a.m. ready to practice.

It’s nice to say that I’ve won somewhere different that not many people of won. But I’d like to win in a place like Florida, though. (Laughter)

RA: I want to ask you about the business side of golf.

You took part in a fun event this week. The FedEx Junior Business Challenge, where you were part of a judging panel. You had the chance to evaluate young entrepreneurs as they pitched original business concepts. What was that like for you?

TF: Yeah, that was cool. We had the chance to meet three groups of very smart and inspiring kids who all had really great ideas. These are what I’d call strong minds. I honestly watched and learned from them. This event really showcased students who are going to have a lot of tremendous opportunities in life ahead of them.

Business people really interest me. There are a lot of correlations between sports and the business world. Being in the limelight, the psychology of it, how we go about doing things. I always try and watch how business people think. I like to read a lot about business people. I’m not going to say I’ve got a great business mind, but I enjoy learning from the world of business.

RA: In a sense you are your own corporation, right? You have your wife, Clare, who is also your manager. How important is it to have someone like Clare, someone you clearly trust, to manage the business side of your career?

TF: Oh, it’s very important. Without my support network, I don’t think I’d be out here. Clare makes life so easy for me. From a business perspective, to being my wife, to being my friend. It allows me to go out and just play golf and work on a daily basis. I consider myself very, very lucky. She’s the person I trust the most and when it comes to business, that is extremely important.

RA: How about players on the PGA Tour…Who is the most talented player on Tour?

TF: Rory.  I strongly, strongly believe it. Obviously, Tiger Woods is the greatest of all time, but I wasn’t playing with him during his prime. For me, Rory is the one. Nobody else comes to mind that compares to him talent wise, and ability wise.

RA: How about the funniest guy on the PGA Tour? 

TF: Funniest? It's a great question. It depends on what you think is funny. If you like dry humor, Henrik Stenson thinks he’s very funny, but I think I’m very funny in a dry sense as well. Wow, comedy? You’ve got some characters out here.

RA: Who would you say is your closest friend on Tour? 

TF: Definitely Fran. Francesco Molinari. I think on the PGA Tour, there’s a bond between the European players. Especially if you’ve played together on the Ryder Cups and such. Francesco is high up there. We’re close and our families are close. Fran is the one.

I think we have a very similar sense of humor. I think we are both maybe an under-the-radar type of character or a quieter character. I think we are very similar in a lot of ways. For me, Fran was great for me at the Ryder Cup. He had that experience and he made me feel very at ease. That’s helped us become as close as we are, and we get on well.

RA: You mention a few European players. How about the American golf?  What is the biggest difference between European and American golf?

TF: It’s a very good question. It's a different style of golf. That stands out for sure when you come over to America. The style of play and the golf courses in America. Most golf courses in America either stretch your game, and test different elements of your game and the margins for error are smaller…or if the course is not as difficult you have shoot super, super low.

Each tournament is important over here. It’s a massive sport in America. In Europe there are certain places we play where the crowds aren’t as big so that’s a factor as well.

I’m really interested in the college system over here, since I didn’t go through it. It’s a different way that players get nurtured at the amateur ranks. I’d like to know more about the college system in America.

RA: How about personality wise. Are American players a little more uptight than the European players?

TF: That’s a difficult one, I don’t know. Maybe they get that reputation because of how the Tours work. For us, the European Tour is a very, very close-knit group of guys. We travel all over the world together and often stay in the same hotels. You share buses or courtesy cars. We are a tighter knit group that way. Over here in America it’s a lot more of an individual sport and I’d say that probably plays a part in that reputation.

RA: Do you think that helps you guys in the team competitions?

TF: (laughter) I don’t know. I’d have to look at the statistics. (laughter)

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