How Europe’s No1 Tommy Fleetwood got his groove back

Joy Chakravarty 16:34 06/11/2017
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Tommy Fleetwood

Towards the middle of 2016, Tommy Fleetwood felt his golf was going nowhere and he needed to make some changes. In came a new coach and caddie.

The impact was immediate – he missed one cut after another, and his ranking sank at an alarming rate. That’s what a change does in the short term.

Fleetwood realised that sometimes, to make a leap forward, you’ve got to take a few steps back. The Englishman remained calm – which comes naturally to him – and worked hard with his new team. Soon, just like the proverbial Phoenix, he rose from the ashes.

Tommy Fleetwood Mark II has been one of the greatest success stories in golf in 2017.

Once considered Europe’s brightest young prospect – he was the No1 ranked amateur in the world and won the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in 2013, aged 22 – he has climbed back from being 188th in the world in September last year to his current ranking of 19th.

Of course, the golfer from Southport is also the Race to Dubai leader, a position he has had a stranglehold on ever since beating a world-class field at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January this year.

He won the Open de France later in the season, and was second at the WGC-Mexico Championship to world No1 Dustin Johnson. There was also a fourth-place finish at the US Open. Barring exceptional results from the rest of the field, he should be crowned the new European No1 on November 19 at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

So, how did someone so prolific in 2017, struggle to make it to the weekends less than a year before?

The dip in his form, which saw him fall from 49th in the world ranking in July 2015 to 188th, interestingly, came because of a previous change – a failed attempt to take his game to another level by altering his swing. That was the genesis of his problem.

From the 2015 Scottish Open in July to the KLM Open in September 2016 – a period of one year and two months – Fleetwood did not have a single top-10 finish. And when he missed the cut at the 2016 Volvo China Open, he decided it was time to take action.

“I have always been a good driver of the golf ball, and I was really struggling off the tee at that time. That was putting a lot of pressure on other part of my game. So, I took a few videos of my swing and sent a text to Alan (Thompson), who coached me as a junior aged 12, and once later in my career, if he’d have a look,” said Fleetwood.

“Alan could have easily said no to my request, but he did not. I also got back to my mate, Ian (Finnis), and asked if he’d caddie for me. He had been on my bag a few times earlier and we have a very good understanding. We love each other’s company. He agreed, but the first few weeks must have been terrible for him because he has a young family and I missed a bunch of cuts.

“Part of it was also the fact that I started working again with my psychologist, Tom Young. I had worked with him before, and he came back. I also had my putting coach, Phil Kenyon, and my fitness coach, Kevin Duffy. I was suddenly working with people I had known for a long time. I had a great team around me.

“We kept at it and we worked hard. The thing was, with Alan and Ian around, I started enjoying my golf more. I started enjoying putting in the hours.”

What goes unnoticed by fans in the glare of his fantastic results is the kind of effort that Fleetwood and his team put in.

“My swing was the first thing we concentrated upon. We had massively long days. I remember we played 36 holes during one of the practice days of the 2016 Open. You’d normally play nine or 18 practice holes a day and try and stay fresh before a major championship,” remembers Fleetwood.

“My swing was getting better but I needed to learn to trust it on the course. Playing was a completely different thing and I was still very nervous, still very protective and I had a bit of yip in my swing that sent it out right.

“So, we did put in a lot of effort and long days and it started coming together slowly. But the process was fun and you are never going to regret working too hard.

“Of course, it was frustrating at times as I struggled…but I learned a lot about the game because of that one year. I tried to get better, but it went the other way. I finally came out the other way. I have had a lot of ups this year, as well as some results that were frustrating, but I have a greater respect for the game since I started playing well again.”

While working on his swing, Fleetwood also focused on the mental and physical aspect of the game with Young and Duffy. “Those are very important parts of what we do. I mean, most of the players on the Tour are capable of winning, they are that good. Everything is mental,” he explained.

“Everyone has a different golf swing, but everyone can hit it well and everyone can make the putts. However, there is something that separates the winners from others…and it has got to be their mind. I believe very much in the mental aspect of golf.

“When I could not hit it off the tee, there was a mental challenge in that. When you are trying to win a tournament, there is the challenge of coming down the stretch. You’ve got to control your emotions, you’ve got to know yourself, you’ve got to believe you can win a tournament.

“The physical side has come into play a lot these last few years. I used to be stronger physically, but now I do a lot of movement exercises and yoga. I haven’t trained a lot, as in with weights, but I have done a lot of movement stuff and stretching that helps me with my current golf swing.”

It also helps that Fleetwood is in a great place mentally off the golf course. On September 28, he and fiancée Claire Craig became parents to Franklin, and a whole new perspective has come along with fatherhood.

“There’s no doubt about it, life’s great at the moment for me. I have got different types of pressure, like trying to win the Race to Dubai which everyone talks about. But at the end of the day, nothing can make me feel like the way my baby does,” added Fleetwood.

The new year is going to bring a new set of challenges, which he is already looking forward to. For starters, there is the possibility of making the European Ryder Cup team and the fact that he has taken up his PGA Tour membership and will ply his trade on both sides of the Atlantic.

“You want to concentrate on this week and this season, but you are always looking ahead,” he said.

“I have looked at the schedule and done some planning for 2018. The PGA Tour is going to be a massive new challenge. I think it is going to make me a better player. I want to win there. I want to play and win majors and WGC, and most of them are held in the States. So, playing there will definitely help me do that.”

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