Sitting in Sunningdale’s Founders’ Room, his modest frame swallowed by a wing-back chair covered in swirly curtain fabric, the British golfer Tommy Fleetwood certainly makes an impression. The ‘Fairway Jesus’, as he’s been called, is easily recognisable by his long hair and unkempt beard, and today he’s dressed head to toe in celestial white (even the strap of his TAG Heuer smartwatch is an unblemished white). Once, he might have been chased out of here. But, led by the 30-year-old and his peers, the culture of golf has changed.
Fleetwood’s unaffected appearance belies the intensity of his on-course performances, but the two together have made him hugely popular. And just as influential. When he speaks, people tune in. In mid September at Sunningdale Fleetwood had just finished the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and was looking ahead to the Ryder Cup, later in the month.
In the end, Fleetwood was one of the stars of the European Ryder Cup Team that was on the wrong end of a thrashing by the Americans. We talked about an idea doing the rounds of adding a mixed event that brings the Ryder and women’s Solheim Cups together, men and women in a combined team event, à la the successful mixed relays at the Olympics.
Fleetwood’s in favour. ‘I would love it,’ he says. ‘Any opportunity to play in a team. Going into battle as a team and as a family is an amazing feeling. There’s a place for it [a mixed cup] in the game if we can find a time in the calendar for it. The Solheim Cup is an amazing spectacle, the Ryder Cup is an amazing spectacle. To have something that’s similar to both would be great.’
Until then, Fleetwood’s attentions have turned to qualifying for the 2023 Ryder Cup, which will be held in Italy for the first time, and to avenging this year’s painful loss. Which means returning to the peripatetic life of a tour pro.
He’s quick to dismiss the challenges of life on tour. ‘I’m living my dream,’ he says. ‘There’s the good and the bad of being a tour pro. Some of the best parts can be the hardest parts, like the travel. I love travelling and seeing the world, but at the same time it means being away from family and loved ones.’
Fleetwood married Clare in 2017 and together they have a son, Franklin. He remains down to earth, the lad from Southport. ‘Like any normal job, you have your good days and bad days, good months and bad months,’ he says without even a hint of conceit. ‘But at the same time, you’re playing a game for a living. The luxury that you have on your worst days is that you are on a beautiful piece of land, playing golf, and most of the time in nice weather. That perspective has to be there.’
No doubt that attitude helps when results aren’t going his way. Fleetwood won the European Tour’s Race to Dubai in 2017 and became Europe’s no 1 golfer. But his form since has dipped, and he’s lost his place in the world’s top 25. ‘You always learn more from adversity than success,’ he says phlegmatically. ‘The bad times teach you more about yourself. It doesn’t come back at the click of a finger. It takes a lot of hard work.’
Amateurs will understand the sentiment. Help, of sorts, is at hand. Fleetwood is full of praise for TAG Heuer’s Connected Watch Golf Edition, which he’s been wearing on tour since he signed with the brand a year ago.
‘Having something on call right next to you is very helpful,’ he says of the titanium luxury smartwatch, which is designed around a highly sophisticated proprietary golf app. ‘An amateur golfer needs enough information to be comfortable, but not too much so that it burdens them and overworks their mind. You’ve still got to concentrate on hitting the ball.’
Which sums up Fleetwood nicely. Despite America’s record margin of victory in Wisconsin, you suspect he’ll get over it. ‘Whatever the result is in any given week is not the end story,’ he says. ‘There’s always another week.’
TAG Heuer Connected Watch Golf, £2,100; tagheuer.com