A year ago Tommy Fleetwood came into the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship as the 100th ranked player in the competition.
He was 188th in the world the previous September. But he won, somehow, and it set in motion one of the most stunning individual resurrections in recent golf memory that sees him now sitting in 18th – an upwards jolt of 170 places in just 16 months.
Fleetwood, who turns 27 on Friday, ended the year as Race to Dubai champion after holding off Justin Rose’s surge to claim the overall title at Jumeirah Golf Estates in November.
And back in the Emirates this week ahead of his title defence in Abu Dhabi, he was presented with the Seve Ballesteros Award at his press conference at the Westin hotel yesterday – bestowed upon the European Tour’s best player, as voted by their peers.
“It’s actually made me the most emotional out of all of them,” a surprised Fleetwood said after European Tour CEO Keith Pelley and tournament director David Howell gatecrashed his press conference to present him with the award.
“There’s still so many guys that when I come out I was looking up to and you watch people on the range and you try to learn from them,” added Fleetwood, a popular man on the tour, who is looking good to make Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup team after his sublime 2017.
“I’ve made a lot of friends and for people to vote for me as the Player of the Year, it’s something else. It’s different to anything I’ve achieved before. It’s very flattering, very humbling.”
After winning the opening event of 2017 here, Fleetwood quickly added to his momentum. He was second at the WGC – Mexico Championship in March and at the Shenzhen International in April.
He won July’s HNA Open de France and even though he endured an anxious wait as first he but then Rose capitulated on the final day on Earth course at the DP World Tour Championship, he eventually celebrated winning the Race to Dubai crown which he had dominated for much of the season.
After that he finished sixth at the UBS Hong Kong Open and tied for third at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. And he admits he is starting his 2018 in a “very different place to last year”.
“I won last year and it kind of came, it did come out of nowhere,” said Fleetwood, who reached his lowest ebb at May 2016’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth – where he felt he wasn’t able to strike a ball off the tee.
“I had worked really hard sort of half of the year before, and then by the time I got to this event, the goals for the year were, I just wanted to win a tournament again and pretty much anything other than that was a bonus.
“It took us all a little bit by surprise, and it was a massive accumulation of so much hard work and coming back and getting my game back together.
“It was just so many great memories from that week, and it clearly started a great run for me throughout the year. I think I owe a lot to the tournament and the way I played.”
Due to his stunning comeback year, the Southport native – whose 2017 was further enhanced by marrying wife Clare and becoming a father for the first time – admits expectations have been raised, ever so slightly, this year.
“I’m in a much different place world ranking-wise, so then the goals and making improvements become more difficult. You have to put a lot more extra work in to get smaller gains but I’m very lucky with the people I have around me.
“Generally, the goals are, I want more of the same. It’s easy to pick out tournaments that you want to win, and it’s easy to say, ‘oh I want to win a major, I want to compete in the majors and I want to make the Ryder Cup team, but you have to remember to just keep progressing.
“I know how easy it is to go off-track. I know what it takes to stay on the right track and I know I’m surrounded by people that are going to keep me going that way.”
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