STORIES Timekeepers: Tommy Fleetwood, Pro-Golfer
Two months after talking inspiration, family, hard work and what it’s like overall to walk a mile in a pair of golf shoes on The Edge podcast, we meet again with pro-golfer Tommy Fleetwood before the 2021 PGA Championship to discuss his first hole-in-one, his favourite courses, and helping his dad set up the TAG Heuer Golf App.
We’re here in South Carolina for the 2021 PGA Championship, taking place at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. This is your second major of the year. Is it just as exciting every time you step out onto a major championship course?
They’re all special. Every time you step out onto a course for the first time they can be intimidating. You’re always the furthest back on every tee, and it can be pretty long and tough, when you’re not used to the course. This one’s exciting because it’s the first one we’ve had for a while with all the crowds and the stands. It feels like we’re getting back to what we’re used to, and that’s exciting.
Do you thrive off of the crowds, or have you enjoyed it being quieter in any way?
It’s certainly a different experience, having nobody watching. At my last PGA I teed off [meaning starting a game] really late on the Saturday, and by the time I got to the 17th hole it was 7pm and there was literally nobody there. It was a little eerie. So it’s definitely exciting to be somewhat back to normal. I think everybody thrives off of that.
How do you usually prepare, before a major?
I like to play a tournament two weeks beforehand, and then have a week to practice and fine tune things, as well as getting lots of rest. A week of play, a week off, and then I go into a major from there.
What about the course management side of things?
You can spend all the time in the world on the range, but when you actually play you’re hitting different winds, different angles. So the most beneficial thing for me is having the Connected Watch to see exactly how far I’m hitting my driver off the tee, how far my irons are going, and seeing shot patterns. On a professional level it’s great, having that information in front of me.
Is it beneficial being able to see aerial views on the Connected Watch?
Absolutely, it’s so important, and it brings that extra comfort level. The more knowledge and visuals you have, the easier it is to put it all to the back of your mind, and just hit a shot. You can practise all you want, but you also have to be comfortable and feel like you have the right amount of information.
You have some very impressive wedge shot stats. How do you hit a controlled wedge shot? [Wedges are a type of iron club with short shafts and heavy clubheads, used for short-distance shots or for getting out of tricky spots…]
That’s a good question because I wasn’t very good at it for a while. I think I’ve improved recently. I used to carry four wedges, because I wasn’t that great when I first turned pro. So the first thing I’d say is if you’ve only got three, carry an extra wedge. The harder you swing a wedge, the more it spins, and then you have less control. I love opening my stance a lot on wedge shots, to give me that room. So I’d definitely advise, whatever the yardage is and whatever you feel the right club is, take one wedge up, and then try to open the stance.
What goes through your head when you’re hitting an approach shot [at least 100 yards from the hole] when you have to consider so many different factors?
At a major you have some really tough spots. With the course this week [the Ocean Course at Kiawah] there’s places where you might think, ‘if I’m out of position, bogey [i.e the score of one stroke more than par for the hole] is going to be the worst score I make, I’m not going to make double bogey or triple bogey. It’s one of the differences between a major and a normal week. You wouldn’t think we’d be out there thinking ‘where can we not make double bogey from’, but it does happen. I would love to be good enough to leave myself the perfect putt all the time, but I’m not, and I have to accept that. You’d always rather be putting.
Can we please talk about your ace at the Masters Tournament, on the 16th? That was incredible.
Yes, there are cool places to have a hole-in-one, and the Masters on the 16th is one of them. It was a great moment because I was having one of those days when I could not hole a putt at all, and then all of a sudden I had a hole-in-one. And I was playing with Phil Mickelson, who’s an Augusta legend, so. You get a piece of crystal every time you get an eagle or an ace at Augusta, and that was my 5th Masters and only my first crystal, so I was pretty happy.
Not many people can relate to playing Augusta National, but having an ace on top of that, it’s a bucket-list golf shot. How many have you had, total?
That means it’s a lot.
I think it’s eight or nine now. Somebody else asked me that recently, because I had one just a week before the Masters. They seem to have dried up since then.
Do you remember where your first one was?
It was on the 16th on a course I played on growing up, with my dad. I remember that, sure. It’s probably my favourite.
What was that course like?
I grew up in a seaside town that has a lot of amazing links courses, and was a member at the only parkland course there. I used to love playing with my dad, and the other junior members. It was actually quite long, for a course back then. It doesn’t feel that way now.
It was preparing you for this week.
[Laughs] It was a little bit shorter than Kiawah. But yes, there was a lot of water on the course, and it was a parklands course in a links town, but it was great, I still go back there now.
How different is it playing in the US, as opposed to where you grew up in England?
I definitely think whether it’s between the European tour and the PGA tour, or the States and the UK, there are different styles of golf. At the end of the day I usually think if you play well, you’ll be fine, but there are different styles and things to consider. I’d say you need a higher ball flight, in the US. It’s all golf, at the end of the day.
Are there other adjustments to make other than golf styles, coming to the US?
There’s definitely a different kind of fanbase at tournaments here. I’ve always been very lucky and have had fantastic support. People have been really kind to me, and the enthusiasm from fans over here, I absolutely love. They’re quite a lot louder, over here, in a great way.
At what point did you realise you could make it as a professional, and decide to go for it?
It was always my favourite thing to do as a kid, I’d come home from school and then go straight out and hit balls. I started playing for the national team, for England, so I was spending time around the elite level of the game, and I was always improving. When I left school I gave myself a few years to play full time, and then I played the Walker Cup when I was 18, and I knew by then I was going to become a professional – you’re full of confidence at that age. When I did finally get out on the European tour, it hit hard – the standards are a lot higher than you’re used to, you’ve got a lot more work to do. But yes, by the time I was 15, 16, I was pretty focussed on becoming a professional and touring the world.
And here we are! I’ve seen a lot of interviews in which you talk about the course at St Andrews…
[Laughs] With a lot of passion?
Yes! You can tell you really love it. Tell us about your first round there.
There’s an amateur event in Europe called the St Andrews Links Trophy. That was the first time. The town has an amazing atmosphere, to start with. It’s a golf town. The course itself – I love a course that tests every aspect of your game. With that course there’s so many different things that can happen, there are humongous greens, it feels different every day, depending on the wind. It’s a course where you should never really lose your ball, but at the same time you can find some bunkers and have a really tough time.
We’ve been there – looking back at the club house from the furthest point, it feels like a long way.
It is a long way away.
And if it’s a rainy, cold day, do you still enjoy every second of it?
I really, really do.
What are your favourite ‘hidden gem’ golf courses that aren’t on tour?
I loved Shinnecock, where the US Open was in 2018. Around that area, the Hamptons, I played a few of the courses. I love National, and I love Friar’s Head. National, I think, is one of those courses where you never really lose a ball off the tee, so you’re always in play. And then getting into the greens, there’s so many different shots you can hit. I really enjoyed it.
Have you ever given a TAG Heuer as a gift?
I gave them to a couple of my coaches, I wanted them to have one. And my dad, I had to give him the Connected Golf. It was quite funny – when I gave it to him he said, is it easy to set up? And I said yes, it’s really easy. But as it turns out, he couldn’t do it. So I helped him set up the TAG Golf App, and when he first opened it, an ad came up, and it was a picture of me. My dad was like, what is this?! He’s not into giving me that much praise, he’s quite sarcastic. But then he still thinks he hits a 7 iron over 170 yards, so… [That’s impressive…]
He might be in for a shock.
He will be, now he has the watch!
Do you have a warm up routine before a round?
It varies. I do think a warm up is just a warm up – I’ve had some of my best rounds when I couldn’t hit a shot on the range, and I’ve had some really bad rounds when I didn’t miss on the range. I have a stretching routine that can differ, too. I have a trainer, and depending on what we’re working on in terms of my swing, I do different stretches. That can range from five to twenty minutes. And then I just go to putting, chipping, and hitting balls, really. I keep it pretty relaxed, it’s not overly structured.
Now we have some rapid-fire questions for you. What is your dream foursome?
My dad and my kids.
You answered that quickly! Which major would mean the most to you?
What’s your favourite Ryder Cup format?
As in foursome, fourball or singles? Foursomes.
Pick any TAG Heuer athlete to teach you a sport.
I’d go with Naomi Osaka, right now. She’s pretty good at winning grand slams.
We’ll try to set up a match. This one may be tough – Augusta or St. Andrews?
St. Andrews. Easy.
Favourite feature of the TAG Heuer Connected Watch?
I would have to say accurate distances at the press of a button, definitely.
What are you looking forward to most this week?
I’m looking forward to playing, obviously. As I said, I like courses that test every part of your game, from the mental aspect to any technical challenges that you have. I always get excited about being able to challenge myself in that way. And I’m looking forward to the atmosphere.
For those who will be watching this PGA championship at home, is there anything you would say to watch out for?
I reckon there’ll be a few nightmares, you can end up in some tricky spots. If it’s a close finish when you’ve still got 16, 17, 18 to come, I think there’ll be some great golf. As there should be, with a major championship.