Wednesday, 27 December 2017
Race to Dubai Champion Tommy Fleetwood  (Getty Images)
Race to Dubai Champion Tommy Fleetwood (Getty Images)

Tommy Fleetwood will never forget 2017. He got married. His first child was born. And on the golf course, he became a world star after shining in Major Tournaments and winning some of the game’s most prestigious events en route to topping the Race to Dubai.

For some time, Fleetwood had been tipped to reach the top.

After an outstanding amateur career – he finished as a runner-up in the 2008 Amateur Championship before competing in the Walker Cup a year later – Fleetwood excelled on the European Challenge Tour, becoming the youngest player to win the Rankings in 2011, aged just 20 years and 290 days.

A debut European Tour triumph came in just his second season on Europe’s top tier in the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, where he pipped Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez and Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher in a play-off to claim the title.

But despite flashes of brilliance, including making a 552-yard albatross at the 2015 BMW PGA Championship, Fleetwood faltered, spending just three weeks inside the world’s top 50 in the three seasons following his debut win.

There were signs that 2017 could be his year, after a remarkably consistent end to the 2016 season.

From the D+D REAL Czech Masters in August to the season finale in Dubai, the Englishman made 11 consecutive cuts, finishing in the top 50 in each of those events, and was a cumulative 101 under par for that period.

A third-place finish in the season-opening UBS Hong Kong Open in December, the first event in the 2017 Race to Dubai, proved Fleetwood was getting closer to another victory.

In his first start of 2017, the breakthrough finally came.

Up against some of the world’s greatest players at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, most notably the American duo of Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson, Fleetwood kept his cool in the heat of the United Arab Emirates to turn in 31 over the back nine of his final round, keeping Johnson and co at bay to claim a one-shot win.

"I thought maybe the second win would come sooner to be honest," he said after claiming his first title in three years and 150 days. "It's been a massive comeback.” 

Tommy Fleetwood

With the monkey off his back, and with his good friend Ian Finnis on the bag, the sky was now the limit for Fleetwood.

After going toe-to-toe with World Number One Johnson again in March at the WGC - Mexico Championship, he would have to settle for second place in Mexico City, but Fleetwood was in the hunt again in April.

A stunning final day 63 had seen the 26 year old set the clubhouse target at the Shenzhen International, but it was eventually matched by Bernd Wiesberger, so back up the 18th they went.

A brilliant Wiesberger birdie at the first extra hole meant another near miss for Fleetwood, but he was now becoming a regular at the top of leaderboards – and would soon be in contention for a maiden Major triumph.

Having battled his way round the tricky Erin Hills for three days, Fleetwood was one behind leader Brian Harman going into the final round of the U.S. Open.

Eventual champion Brooks Koepka produced a flawless 67 during the final round to clinch the title but Fleetwood still covered himself in glory with a closing level par 72 – securing fourth place for his best Major finish.

That result, along with an outstanding maiden Rolex Series victory at the HNA Open de France, took Fleetwood to first place in the Race to Dubai in July, but he had a fight on his hands to become the European Tour Number One for the first time.

Tommy Fleetwood

With Justin Rose’s late flourish Fleetwood was just 256,737 points ahead of his countryman going into the lucrative DP World Tour Championship, Dubai - the final event of the season.

In a campaign of such fine margins- Fleetwood triumphed by one in both Abu Dhabi and France while he missed out in China and Mexico by single strokes - it was fitting that the Race to Dubai would also go right down to the wire.

Needing to finish in outright fourth or better, Rose required an eagle at the par five 18th to win the European Tour’s Order of Merit for the second time – but he could only manage birdie.

Fleetwood had done it. After starting 2016 on the cusp of the top 100 in the world he was now a mainstay in the top 20, and the European Tour Number One.

Tommy Fleetwood

"My ultimate goal in life is to be the best player in the world," said Fleetwood after receiving the biggest accolade of his career, the Race to Dubai title.

With a Ryder Cup in Paris to come next year at Le Golf National, the site of his HNA Open de France triumph, and now a regular in all four Majors, the stage is set for Fleetwood to go on and achieve that goal.   

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