Tommy’s never been so keen to be in the red
NEVER can an Evertonian have wanted to see so much of the red stuff as Tommy Fleetwood. The Southport golfer and Everton fan had made it through to the final day of an Open Championship for the first time on the course just a few miles down the road from where he was brought up.
And the 26-year-old, who had to contend with a welter of pre-event expectation that he could be a genuine contender for the Claret Jug, was determined to deliver a final flourish for the hordes of supporters that had followed him among the record-breaking crowds at Royal Birkdale.
That support resulted in the most unusual chants ever heard on a golf course, including a karaoke special as he made his way down the 15th, only part of which is reprintable in a family newspaper.
“Oh Tommy Fleetwood, I’ve got curly hair, too” to the tune of I Love You Baby brought a smile from the player whose trademark long haircut has attracted as much attention as his prodigious play.
Indeed, it was smiles all round as a relaxed Tommy took time out to spot friends and family in the crowd, while the reception he received down the 18th could just as easily been accorded to a player at the top of the leaderboard.
But the frustration for Fleetwood was that throughout much of his round, his scorecard stubbornly refused to turn red after he was sent on his way from the first tee with a chorus of ‘come on Tommy’ and one ‘Nil Satis nisi optimum’!
The Everton FC motto was appropriate given the attendance of a group of players from the club including returning Wayne Rooney, Phil Jagielka, Gareth Barry, Michael Keane and Leighton Baines.
And Birkdale is a course that demands nothing but the best if your scorecard is going to be good enough. But with Fleetwood’s game not as razor sharp as he wanted, it was a day of ‘what ifs’.
He could never quite get close enough to the flag to make a birdie opportunity a given, while his putting radar was fractionally out. He kept giving himself chances, but the ball refused to drop.
And then like a team that has been besieging the opposition goal, Fleetwood was caught by a double sucker punch on the counter attack.
At the par three 12th, the crowd groaned as his ball was sucked back into a greenside bunker deeper than Bill Gates’s pockets and the cost to Fleetwood was his first bogey.
Then on the next short hole, the 14th, he missed a small-fry putt to drop a further shot.
He was now on the ropes, but he came back fighting, watched by fellow Evertonian, boxer Tony Bellew.
He fired in a superb approach to the par five 15th from 220 yards, and while it did not end in an eagle, the first red inker was ample compensation.
He followed that up with a knockout approach to 16 and back to back birdies to get back up off the canvas. It was a resilient response from a player who had hoped to gatecrash the top 10 on the last day, but it still left Fleetwood able to enjoy his first ever walk down the 18th on the Sunday of an Open.
The reception was warm and generous, starting as he and playing partner Marc Leishman, who had played beautifully all the way round as he revelled in the large galleries following the game to card a 65 and make his own way into the top 10, were still some 150 yards short of the green.
Fleetwood’s week may not have lived up to the dreams he had of winning an Open as a young boy starting out in golf on his local municipal course, but it is fair to say the crowd still loved you, baby!