Tommy Fleetwood interview: I want to put my American critics in their place

Tommy Fleetwood - Tommy Fleetwood interview: I want to put my American critics in their place
Tommy Fleetwood's game is built for a good showing at the Masters, but he is yet to feature in the mix on the back nine on Sunday - Reuters/Mike Blake

Tommy Fleetwood laughs when he is told that someone on social media called him ‘the $20 million loser’. “I haven’t heard that one, but there’s worse things to be called, isn’t there?” he says. “If I’m going to win in America then wouldn’t it be great to do it at the Masters? It’d be a nice way to get off the mark.”

The Englishman is often the butt of criticism in the United States, a country that seems only to value victory on its own shores. Fleetwood has, in fact, won seven times on the DP World Tour, including in Dubai in January when beating Rory McIlroy down the stretch. But that has not stopped Brandel Chamblee from claiming that the 33-year-old has suffered a “poor” year so far.

But then, the Golf Channel analyst is only obeying the narrative that exists in the US about Fleetwood being an unfulfilled talent, ignoring his form on his home circuit and, indeed, in the Ryder Cup.

A few years ago, Paul Azinger announced on air that, “Tommy knows you can win all you want on the European Tour but you have to win on the PGA Tour”, and last week, American magazine Golf Digest bizarrely listed him at 48th in their top 50 rankings for this week’s major.

It is a curious put-down of one of the game’s predominant ball-strikers and one that is built simply on the fact that Fleetwood is the first player in history to earn more than $20 million on the PGA Tour without visiting the winner’s enclosure.

“It doesn’t bother me,” he says. “The way I look at it is that I must have been doing something right to have won all that money. Of course, my ambition is to win over here - that goes without saying. But his year hasn’t been too bad. A couple of top 10s and the win in Dubai. It’s funny, but when I am really consistent they have a go at me for not winning and then when I do win and have an inconsistent spell they also have a go at me. So I can’t really win whatever I do. I just try to be honest with myself and keep putting in the work. That’s all you can do.”

Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy
Tommy Fleetwood's impressive win in Dubai this year, when he held off the considerable challenge of Rory McIlroy, (and his six other European Tour victories) seemingly count for nothing in the US - Getty Images/Warren Little

This is Fleetwood’s eight Masters and while he has recorded top-five placings in the other three majors - including runner-ups at the US Open and Open – his best finish at Augusta is a tie for 14th. Considering his approach-play prowess that makes little sense at a layout that is known for being a second-shot paradise.

“Yes, it’s an odd one,” he says. “I feel the course should suit me, but I’ve never got it going there. I’ve had a few 66s and one year I went out in the third-last group on the Sunday. And I was watching the TV the other day and there was a rerun of when Scottie [Scheffler] won in 2022 and my name was on the leaderboard. Only briefly, but I’d forgotten that. So I know I have the game to do it there. I feel you can’t out-putt Augusta, you have to be hitting it well. You also have to be comfortable there and you see players like Fred Couples who are really comfortable at Augusta.

“I’m not sure why, but the course never seems to allow me to feel comfortable for whatever reason. It’s not like I’ve ever had any nightmares there. I’ve finished in the top 20 three times, but I’ve never excelled there, never been in the fight on the back nine on the Sunday. It’s just all been a bit ‘meh’, really. Hopefully, that’ll change this time.”

Fleetwood is quick to recognise that Scheffler is the clear favourite and that gives him hope. Because while their swings are widely different, there is an easy comparison to make in their tee-to-green magnificence.

“I’d like to have a lot of similarities with Scottie,” Fleetwood says. “He is the best golfer in the world by a long way. I love the way he plays the game. I like the way that he plots his way around golf courses. He’s younger than me, but I look up to him and a lot of things he does, I try to emulate. I might not be playing like him at the moment but I see the game of golf very similar to how Scottie plays.

“I played with him in the third round at Riviera [in February] and I said to him, ‘Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it’. It was an education and he obviously loves Augusta. If you’re beating him then you won’t be far away from the Green Jacket.”

Scottie Scheffler
Scottie Scheffler heads to the first major as strong favourite and Fleetwood knows that if you beat him this weekend then you won't be far from victory - Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton

This will be the first time Fleetwood ventures out at the National without his caddie Ian Finnis. His fellow Merseysider is at home recovering from a severe chest infection.

“We just want Fino to get well,” he says. “He’ll be fine but it does put it in perspective for me. Health is everything. He’s been poorly for a while, but never did anything about it, just going from week-to-week travelling and working. You get wrapped up in all this. Sometimes you need to step back and this won’t do Fino any harm whatsoever.”

In his place, Fleetwood has enlisted the services of Gray Moore, the former caddie master whose nickname is “Mr Augusta”. The enforced partnership has the ring of a great story about it and Fleetwood is happy to ride its possibilities.

“Hey, everybody’s got a different story,” Fleetwood says. “I’m clearly not the guy who came out here as a 20-year-old and swept all before him, but I could be the guy that wins a bunch in his thirties. Who knows? But I’ll stay grafting and take wherever it gets me.”

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