Tommy Fleetwood: ‘It was a big loss … mum supported me when I was playing badly’

The tears could easily have been mistaken for ones of joy. The three years between Tommy Fleetwood’s victory at the Nedbank Challenge of 2019 and repeat glory in November failed to return a victory. They included a “terrible” run of form and a front-row seat as the United States celebrated a Ryder Cup trouncing of Europe. As Fleetwood held off Ryan Fox by one shot, he was entitled to deep reflection. One of the world’s finest golfers was back where he belonged.

There was, however, far deeper reasoning. Fleetwood’s mother, Sue, died at the age of 60 in July. In South Africa, he was understandably hit by a kaleidoscope of thoughts. “That was the emotional part,” Fleetwood says. “I wasn’t emotional about winning. I felt very calm that day, I enjoyed playing and coming down the stretch. My mindset was good, I was playing really well.

“At the last, it was just one of those moments. Mum had supported me through all the shit in 2021, when I was playing badly. Simple messages like: ‘You’ll have a good day tomorrow.’ Then the week that I win without her …” Fleetwood’s reflective expression tells the story.

He is an example of a sportsperson who battled on with a day job in the public eye as personal circumstances dictated focus must have been skewed. A social media post in the aftermath of the 150th Open revealed the death of his mother, with the length of her illness such that Fleetwood’s professional prominence – he remained comfortably in the world’s top 50 – was quite remarkable.

“She had cancer for two years,” the 31-year-old says. “She had been in and out of hospital. Obviously, you never expect her to die. You are never ready for that. She had been on and off chemo and really struggling for a while so she had been unwell for a decent amount of time.

“I went to see her on the Tuesday after the Open. She wasn’t particularly happy but looked the best I had seen her in a year and a half. I came home and said: ‘My mum looks so good today.’ She died the next morning.

“Who is ever ready for that? She was still young. She was the one person apart from my wife who texted me every day of my life. It was a big loss, a big hole. I felt for my dad, who had sat next to mum for two years and watched her suffer. They had been married for 42 years. I am proud of him for how he handled it all.”

It is typical of Fleetwood’s self-effacing style that he has no desire to dramatise things. “Everybody adapts to the situation they are going through,” he says. “I would have loved my mum and dad to have been able to travel more. They missed out on the last couple of years having been such a big part of my career. I could still enjoy going home and spending the time I was given with both of them.

“Everybody goes through family struggles at some point, you just do what you can. Mum never moaned about it, dad never moaned about it. We never made it worse than what it was.”

Fleetwood’s break from golf was relatively brief. The Open – when he tied for fourth – finished on 17 July. In early September the Southport man was in the field for the PGA Championship at Wentworth, where he somehow opened with a 64. Family tragedy was the unspoken backdrop.

“I wouldn’t have been very good at talking about it,” Fleetwood says. “I was so upset teeing off. I was upset when I finished. That was the most unexpected round I have ever had. Golf is such a big part of what our life had been. Mum would always text saying: ‘Play well,’ then always text at the end.

“I had been looking forward to it and was excited to play Wentworth. My dad was coming to watch. When I was there, I didn’t enjoy it. But in the end I was glad I played. I had done it then.”

The Nedbank was proof of such an admirable mind reset and validation of on-course progress. Fleetwood’s top five at the Open sat alongside the same at the US PGA Championship. He posted a Masters top-20 in April.

“It’s a really tough environment and winning is what you aim for all the time so when you don’t get there, that can be difficult,” he says. “I had decent chances to win in 2021 but the truth was I was playing terribly. I could easily not win in South Africa – it comes down to the last hole – but I would still feel like I had a really good year and played a lot better.

“It is all right not winning when you feel like you are doing enough of the right things because it will eventually happen. But, of course, I feel better; there is a big difference between three years since you last won and a matter of weeks.”

Fleetwood can glance forward with optimism and with knowledge of having time on his side. The widespread theory that he is among the best in the game yet to win a major offers hope for the future.

“I still believe in those tournaments I have a fantastic chance,” he says. “I’m consistent, I am patient. The tougher tests suit me. Sooner or later, I’d love it to be my time and more than once. I think my prime years are still to come. There’s still so much I want to do in my career.”

Unsurprisingly, the noise surrounding the rebel LIV Golf tour passed Fleetwood by. “My mindset has been fixed the whole time on getting my game back to where I want it to be and where I think it should be,” he says. “That something new came along was never going to be in my plans. It didn’t affect me at all. My mum was struggling so I had things that were more important than a new tour that I wasn’t going to be playing on. I never got all that interested in it.”

There is, though, a burning desire to reclaim the Ryder Cup. It will be a shock if Fleetwood is not among the European contingent in Italy come September. “When we were stood on the last green at Whistling Straits, having been hammered, the minds of everybody there turned straight to Rome,” he says.

“Winning a Ryder Cup is an amazing feeling. Losing it is crap. Watching the other team celebrate hurts a lot. On that plane back to London, we were all making plans about how we win it back.”

Should that transpire, a pang of sadness may hit Fleetwood once more. It would be wholly natural; an individual immersed in both family and golf has heartfelt cause to forever link the two.


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button