Betfred British Masters tournament host Tommy Fleetwood talks about growing up in Southport, his vision for growing the game and seeing his face on the side of a bus.
It’s a massive honour for me to host the British Masters in Southport. When you consider the guys who have done it before me – Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose – you have a Ryder Cup legend and three World Number Ones. They are huge British names who have achieved so much more than I have in their careers. Hosting was something that we had talked about doing one day, but I honestly didn’t think it would be this soon in my career. Just to have that honour is massive and it’s amazing. I’ve really enjoyed it so far and one of the great things is being able to bring what I want to the event. As a host you have the opportunity to get across your own message, and mine has always been focused on the north west and bringing this tournament home to what I believe is a massive golfing community. People are starved of golf in this area. We get the Open every eight or nine years, and that’s at Birkdale, but to bring a European Tour event back to this area, and to Hillside, which is such a brilliant club, was such a big thing for me. It’s amazing for Hillside and everyone has put in so much effort to get it ready for this week. The whole of Europe is going to be looking at this club, so I’m delighted for them.
I’m very proud to come from Southport. The people in this area are incredible. I played in The Open at Birkdale a couple of years ago and the support I received overwhelming really. Not everyone gets that opportunity to play in front of their home crowd, and it was fantastic, but I’ve certainly learned from that experience. I do want to try to take it in again this week. I’m pretty good at zoning out, but I also want to give myself the opportunity to have a look around and realise it is a special time. I'm not here just to be host though. I’m really proud that I've got my face to a tournament, and really proud that it’s in Southport, but still, I want to prepare as well as I can and hopefully put on a good show.
I definitely feel more nervous than I normally do going into a tournament. The last couple of days have been strange. I said that to my wife Clare when we were driving to Hillside for the first time on Tuesday - nervous on a Tuesday isn’t something I’m normally used to. I don’t know why I feel more nervous, but I do. I think it just shows how much you care though. The last year, or six months, since I was announced as host have gone so quickly and the event is now upon us and I know how much has gone into it. I’m really happy with how everything has turned out. The other players have said some great things about the golf course and I’ve loved being the host so far. I don’t feel like I have had too much to do really, because Clare has done a lot and the guys at the Tour have been great. It’s been an amazing insight into what goes on behind the scenes and I’m really grateful to everyone for all they’ve done.
Hillside awaits... pic.twitter.com/ju4lpdPrP1— British Masters (@british_masters) May 6, 2019
Seeing my face on the side of a Southport bus is surreal. I’ve had little moments during the last few months as host where you just stop and think, I started playing on the municipal over there, and now I’m hosting a European Tour event in my own town and there’s this bus driving round with my picture on it. It’s pretty crazy really. I’ve not actually seen the bus in person yet, as I’ve not really been back home for a few months, but I’ve seen the pictures and the videos. My mum and dad have seen it though and they’ve even been on it! My dad has even been behind the wheel. It is a pretty special thing for them. They’ve lived in Southport their whole lives, and now their son’s face is on the side of the bus.
My parents are incredibly proud. We don’t talk about emotional stuff really – that’s how it is when you’re from round here. My dad would probably have to have a few drinks before he admitted how proud he was, so I might have to get a few down him this week. But I can’t tell how proud they are. When I saw them on Tuesday morning, they were giddy and hyper. So you can definitely tell how much they are looking forward to it, and it is cool, isn’t it? It’s got to be a really proud moment for them, with their son hosting an event in the town they are from. Not many people get that. I know how much they love this town and how massively proud they are to come from here. I’m as pleased for them as much as for me.
My dad got me into golf. My first experience of playing was with what used to be called Sefton Juniors. It took place every Monday night at the Southport municipal. I was about five or six and my brother used to play. I went down there one time and my dad had cut down a couple of clubs and I just hit one. I was pretty sure it was on the seventh hole and I just hit it really well. And then I gradually got into it more and more. There was a putting green which I loved and my dad would take me there and I grew into the game from there. I went on to get a membership at Formby Hall, where I’ve just opened my own academy, and played loads there. And I loved it. The putting green at Municipal or playing nine holes on a Monday night – that was my life.
When you are a kid you dream as big as you possibly can. I loved all that. I was doing pretty well in junior comps and I was always a good golfer, but I would say realistically, it wasn’t until I left school that I really thought I could make it as a golfer. I gave myself a couple of years when I thought I would practise a lot and see how I got on. I had always wanted to turn professional, but I was then at an age when I could make a proper decision to carry on pursuing that dream I had as a kid. I’ve had some great times. You’d always like to be further on in your career, to have won more, but I also really appreciate the journey I am on.
The Ryder Cup made me more recognisable when I came back to Southport. It’s one of the biggest events on the planet. Everyone watches it when it is on and it’s one of the best sporting occasions there is. To be part of it was something so special. Of course it is all about the team, but what follows is that you are known a little more and I was definitely recognised more after it, particularly from a non-golf perspective. I still don’t think that many people would know me if I walked down Lord Street though!
I now want kids to have the opportunities I had growing up. This week, being back in Southport, just seemed like the perfect opportunity to launch the Tommy Fleetwood Academy. We’re opening it at Formby Hall, where I really learned to play the game, and my first coach, Norman Marshall, is going to lead it. People find they are able to give back at different times in their careers, and this has come at exactly the right time for me. I love spending time with kids, I love watching the game grow, and I love to spend my life with people who love the game. The academy is for juniors aged six to 14 and I want to try to grow the game the way I think it should be – making it fun and cooler and more accessible to kids. I had some great times when I was growing up, and I love this sport for so many reasons. Now I would love to see the game expand more, especially in the town we're in and the community we're in. I'm obviously biased because it’s where I'm from, but I think it’s the perfect area for growing the game.