When Tommy Fleetwood came within a whisker of winning the 2010 English Challenge as a fresh-faced amateur, anyone who was there to witness his mercurial display could see that the teenager had serious talent. But perhaps we could not appreciate just how much.
As eye-catching as his prodigious performance was, what was perhaps even more impressive was his demeanour in the immediate aftermath.
Most 19 year olds who had just missed out on capturing their debut Challenge Tour title by a single stroke after three-putting the last hole might have appeared crestfallen.
But not Fleetwood, whose mature reaction belied his tender years. He was charm personified, warmly congratulating Daniel Gaunt on his victory and shrugging off his own disappointment with a joke and a smile. He knew his time would come.
Sure enough, fast forward 15 months and Fleetwood’s smile was as wide as the Ribble estuary in his native Southport, as he held aloft the trophy for ending the season as the Challenge Tour Number One – in the process becoming the youngest winner of the Rankings in the Tour’s 22-year history.
Due largely to his victories at the lucrative Kazakhstan Open and his runner-up finish at the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, where he collected a combined €101,620 en route to finishing his first full Challenge Tour campaign with earnings of €148,912, Fleetwood became the ninth Englishman and the second from Southport to top the Rankings, following Lee Slattery’s success in 2004.
That so many professional golfers should hail from the small coastal town in Merseyside is perhaps no surprise, given that it is often referred to as “England’s Golfing Capital” due to its abundance of championship links courses, of which there are no fewer than 43.
Royal Birkdale is perhaps the jewel in Southport’s crown, having hosted The Open Championship on nine occasions; but it was in the somewhat less salubrious surroundings of Southport Municipal Golf Club that Fleetwood – under the auspices of Sefton Juniors coach Ted Moule – first formed the technique which would later lay the foundations for his meteoric rise through the professional ranks.
Fleetwood was playing nine holes every Monday from the age of five, and two years later he entered his first national competition. “It was an under-13 tournament in the Weetabix Championship, and I shot 130,” Fleetwood recalled. “But I didn’t finish last, and I remember feeling pretty pleased with myself.”
Even as a seven year old, the competitive fires had started to burn.
Aged 11, he joined the junior ranks at Formby Hall Golf Club, where the members soon started to take notice of the small boy with a big talent who would spend countless hours on the range after school and at the weekend.
All the while, a guiding hand was provided by his father and mentor Pete, a manual labourer by trade and a keen amateur golfer in his spare time.
Throughout a stellar amateur career which included victories at the Scottish Amateur Open Stroke Play Championship – by eight shots – and the English Amateur Championship, and which culminated in him topping the Scratch Players World Amateur Rankings, Pete was often seen at his young son’s side.
Whilst he was never the archetypal pushy parent, inevitably the pair sometimes fell out – but never for long.
Fleetwood Junior said: “My Dad never made me do anything I didn’t want to, but if he thought I wasn’t trying hard enough or giving it my all, then he’d let make his feelings pretty clear. We’ve had our ups and downs over the years like any father and son, but we always kiss and make up.
“My Mum was in hospital for a while when I was growing up so he had to bring me up himself, and he did a pretty good job. He’s helped me out so much, on and off the course. He’s always been the first person I ask for advice, and probably always will be. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me, and I hope I’ve made him proud – although he’d never tell me that himself!”
The mutual admiration and affection between father and son is self-evident, and it was only fitting that Fleetwood Junior had his Dad on his bag for the most important victory of his fledgling professional career at the Kazakhstan Open.
Unlike at the English Challenge, this time there was to be no denying Fleetwood, who holed a huge birdie putt on the last hole to take the title, and with it the €64,000 winner’s cheque which would guarantee him a place on European golf’s top tier.
His runner-up finish at the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, which secured the top spot in the Rankings, was the icing on an exceedingly good cake, but now the hard work starts as he prepares for life with the big boys on The European Tour.
Fleetwood said: “The disappointment of not winning will last all of about ten seconds, because I’ve got a lot to look forward to. The standard on the Challenge Tour is unbelievably high, so to finish first in the Rankings gives me so much confidence and belief to take into next season.”
“He’ll win one next year, I’ve got no doubt about that,” added Fleetwood Senior. It would be no surprise if Pete’s prophecy were to come true. After all, Dad knows best.