There was an endearing moment involving Tommy Fleetwood during Saturday’s third round that shows why the Englishman was such a popular winner of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Sunday.
As part of it Future Falcons programme, young children had won the chance to tee up with the professional during their competitive rounds. The tiny tots would hit their tee shots into the par-3 15th hole from the forward tee and then walk with them to the green.
Most professionals, being the nice guys that they are, would do fist-bumps and high-fives with the kids and then move on. Not Fleetwood.
In the heat of the battle, and despite the fact that he wasn’t really having a very good day, Fleetwood had an amazing interaction with the youngster. Not only did he spend time talking to him, he put his arms around him and kept chatting and laughing all the way to the green.
That’s just the person the 25-year-old from Southport is. And even though he said he had decided with his caddie that one of the goals this week was to keep smiling on the golf course, he is a genuinely nice person and a fine golfer.
There is a terrific urge in him to get better. In almost Nick Faldo-like fashion, he decided to change his swing when he was playing good golf in 2015, hoping to become an even better player. That did not work out and he had to make a lot of changes in his life – including switching coach and caddie – to get back in the groove.
One of the most remarkable statistics in his 17-under par effort for the four days was that he hit as many as 66 greens in regulation out of possible 72. That’s a staggering number, one that is generally associated with someone as dominating as Henrik Stenson.
The other impressive thing about his game is that even though he hits the ball a long distance off the tee – don’t get fooled by his slender frame – he is also very straight.
In Abu Dhabi, his average driving distance was 302.1 yards, which placed him 12th in the field, and he found 9.5 fairways out of 14 every day. That made him tied third in driving accuracy.
As we have seen with Stenson and McIlroy, once you start hitting it long and straight, and then usually find the green in regulation, only a very bad day with the putter can deny you a good score.
It may be too early to compare Fleetwood with the two men who have, in between them, won the last five European Tour Race to Dubai titles, but there is no doubting the immense potential that the young man has.
The tournament itself was once again a massive success, even though, this was the first time in several years when the Sunday crowd was not up to the mark one expects in Abu Dhabi.
But Thursday and the weekend was just fabulous. And as always, the organisers did a fantastic job in making it a family outing. There were more food options at the Village this time, and the grassroots programmes with Future Falcons and ME Touch was brilliant.
All this would have gone to waste if there was not a strong golf course, and Abu Dhabi Golf Club was once again in excellent shape for the tournament. Clinton Southorn and his team did a superb job, and when you have a battlefield as good as this, the battle normally is engrossing, as was the case once again.
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