Fleet­wood back at Birk­dale, close to where he grew up

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Steve Dou­glas

SOUTHPORT, ENG­LAND» He is the poster boy of the up­com­ing Bri­tish Open, his flow­ing hair and stub­bly face adorn­ing the ban­ners draped across lamp-posts on the ap­proaches to Royal Birk­dale.

Tommy Fleet­wood has the looks of a rock star and the pop­u­lar­ity of one in this sea­side town in north­west Eng­land, es­pe­cially this week.

Golf’s old­est ma­jor is back in Southport for the first time since 2008 and, in Fleet­wood, one of the sport’s ris­ing stars, the lo­cals have one of their own to cheer for.

“I’ll have the most sup­port I’ve ever had in my life, from peo­ple I’ve grown up with, friends, fam­ily, you name it,” Fleet­wood said on Mon­day. “It’s go­ing to be a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence, for sure.”

Grow­ing up, Fleet­wood lived in a house just round the cor­ner from Royal Birk­dale. The place al­ways held a mys­ti­cal qual­ity to a golf-lov­ing kid who dreamed of win­ning the Open Cham­pi­onship from the age of 5.

He would play at the lo­cal mu­nic­i­pals — Southport, Formby Hall, and Southport & Ains­dale, where he would sweep the paths — and would get on Birk­dale only when ac­com­pa­ny­ing his father, Peter, on evening dog walks.

“I might have bunked on the odd time and hit the odd shot,” Fleet­wood re­called. “But that was about as far as it goes.”

The first Bri­tish Open he went to watch was at Royal Birk­dale in 1998. Fleet­wood re­mem­bers de­fend­ing cham­pion Justin Leonard be­ing on the front cover of the pro­gram, be­ing in awe of a 22-year-old Tiger Woods walk­ing past him and fak­ing golfers’ sig­na­tures in his au­to­graph book be­cause he failed to get any him­self.

Nine­teen years on, it’s his sig­na­ture in de­mand.

Andy Buchanan, AFP/Getty Images

Tommy Fleet­wood plays a shot out of a sand trap on the fourth hole Mon­day dur­ing a prac­tice round at Royal Birk­dale Golf Club near Southport in Eng­land be­fore the 146th Bri­tish Open.

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