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.”
Another unbreakable 18 holes from Lee-Anne Pace keeps the South African atop of the leaderboard at 12 under, as the sun set on Round 2 of the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open.
The second day of the tournament was crammed with action, with India’s Aditi Ashok still in the hunt carding 66 to fall just one shot off the lead on 11 under, whilst Spaniard Luna Sobron made history by setting a new course record with 62; finishing nine under par overall for a share of third place – a 73-place climb from yesterday.
Also shooting up the leaderboard to join Luna in third place was Sweden’s Camilla Lennarth at nine under overall, who fired eight birdies to post a second round score of seven under. Cheyenne Woods once again performed strongly with a round of 6 under, including an incredible hole in one on the 6th hole, her first as a professional, to put her in third place overall.
Georgia Hall also shot an impressive 67 to finish at 8 under par overall in joint fifth place with Florentyna Parker, Celine Herbin and Linda Wessberg.
Pace refused to crack under pressure, saying: “It feels great and I remembered the course better today but I struck the ball really nicely too. I hit the shots I wanted to hit and I hit it really close to the pin and made the putts.
Commenting on the days ahead, she added: “Tomorrow I’d like to start the way I did today, and be a bit patient, as patience helps you to do a lot. I had some chances which I didn’t take but in the end I’m pretty satisfied.”
Ashok was modest when asked about her round, focusing more on her technical game: “I feel I’m hitting the ball well enough, though I missed a couple of drives left but apart from that I struck the ball pretty well. My putting has been pretty good too, so I’m happy.
She added: “Still bogey free and everyone is mentioning it. I’m just focusing on hitting the fairways and letting the birdies happen.”
It was a tough day for Marianne Skarpnord as Norway’s rising star dropped to two under par, while fan favourite Carly Booth shot another 72 to finish agonizingly short of the cut going into day three.
It was also a disappointing day for reigning champ Beth Allen, another not to make the cut, who immediately tweeted after her round: “What a world class event here at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club for FBMLO. Gutted to have put up such a terrible defense. #nextyear”.
His Excellency Aref Al Awani, General Secretary at Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC), owner of the event, said: “Today has shown just how much can change in this exciting sport. It’s no surprise that with such a host of talent on the field, we saw impressive play that has teed up a thrilling weekend of world-class competition ahead. We can’t wait to see what the next two days bring.”
Marking the Emirates-wide celebration of UAE Flag Day, players showed their support by wearing flag pins on their caps, as well as each pin flag changing from tournament magenta to the national flag.
The Village was buzzing with visitors today, as guests enjoyed refreshing cuisine, family fun and views of Saadiyat Beach Golf Club’s fairways basked in the Arabian sun.
The Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open teed up more than just golf ahead of the weekend on day two at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, with visitors enjoying activities such as chipping challenges, the regions first-ever ‘paint golf’, and introductory beginners’ sessions in the popular tournament village, as well as culinary delights from Theo’s Point.
The Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open is free for the public to attend and runs until Saturday, 4th November, 2017 at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.
The Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open is sponsored by: FBMA, Abu Dhabi Sports Council, TDIC, Al Masaood, Etihad Airways, Marriott Downtown Abu Dhabi and Omega.
More information is available at www.fbmladiesopen.com, on Instagram and Twitter (@FBMLadiesOpen), and on Facebook.
South Africa’s Lee-Ann Pace leads the field of the world’s best women’s golfers, as the second edition of the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open teed off on Wednesday at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.
Thirty-five-year-old Pace led the leaderboard at the end of the opening round, with 6-under par on the stunning beachfront course, just one shot ahead of the chasing pack, five of whom all finished on 5-under par. Seven fellow players follow closely behind on 4-under par.
Lee-Ann Pace started the afternoon with a birdie-filled front nine, a performance which pleased the South African despite having to contend with the course’s quick greens,
Pace said: “I played nicely and made quite a few putts and was successful with long putts too, including one from off the green, which I was lucky with being honest. The Par 5’s are reachable here, along with a couple of short Par 4’s too, so it’s important to take advantage and birdie these holes.”
Brit Georgia Hall who came so close in 2016 as runner-up, commented earlier this week that it would be “great to go one better” and win the milestone event this year, and her round on Wednesday certainly backed up her statement. The 21 year old – who currently sits just three shots off the leader after today’s round– racked up a total of seven birdies throughout her round to follow closely behind on 3-under par.
Hall said: “I played really well today, I hit loads of greens, my long game was really good, I just couldn’t hole anything on the front nine.
“I could have easily hit seven-under today. The greens were a little hard to read on the front nine, because you’ve got to read the grain too but it’s a solid start for day one. I’ve played the first round now so I am off and going, hopefully I can just putt a little better tomorrow.”
The first day was a fitting start to the second edition of the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open, which remains the country’s first professional women’s golf tournament. Bright sunshine drew in the crowds, who swept through the gates and avidly followed the first day leaders around the course.
The Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open is free for the public to attend and runs from Wednesday, 1st November to Saturday, 4th November, 2017 at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.
More information is available at www.fbmladiesopen.com, on Instagram and Twitter (@FBMLadiesOpen), and on Facebook.