April 28, 2022
Tommy Fleetwood’s distinguished career has turned him into a household name among golf fans. The Congaree Professional Ambassador has established himself among the game’s professional elite, having won five times on the European Tour, notching second-place finishes in the U.S. and British Opens and suiting up for Europe’s Ryder Cup team. Fleetwood visited Congaree ahead of this year’s Masters Tournament (where he tied for 14thplace) and sat down with Bruce Davidson to talk about his formative development as a golfer and impart his advice to this year’s incoming Congaree Global Golf Initiative class.
Bruce Davidson: Tommy, you and I both grew up in the U.K. - me in Aberdeen and you in Southport. I grew up on a park by the course, a wee golf course called Banchory Golf Club. But any time we got a chance to play on the links course, if you qualified for the Northeast boys or the Scottish boys, you go play at links golf course. Tell us what you experienced growing up in Southport.
Tommy Fleetwood: I grew up on the local muni. My dad played and my brother played and I started when I was like 6. I just wanted to go and they cut a club down and they let me hit some.
I was in a links town, an amazing golfing town. We had The Open Championship come to Birkdale every 10 years, so there was always a massive buzz about that. I grew up on the only part of the course in the town, and whenever I got the chance to go and play the links course it was like the most exciting time.
I went to The Open, and that was the first event I ever went to in 1998 when Mark O’Meara won. That was such an influential thing in my life, it just made me want to always practice. Monday night, Tuesday night, whatever night it was, I would go to the muni and I would try and play nine holes. I would putt on the putting green with my dad. We still do that now. That's something that never changed from when I was 7 up to now. I still love the game whether it be 18 holes or on the putting green with my dad. That time that we spent playing golf together has stuck and it's been so good for our relationship. It's always been a center point of my life.
Bruce: There's a story that I read that you used to sneak onto the golf course at Royal Birkdale through a hole in the fence. The members were fully aware of this, but because of your talent, and because they knew you knew you were a good player, they just kind of let you do that. Is that is that a true story?
Tommy: I didn't know that the members knew. I always thought we were the most stealth people on the planet and I snuck on a few times late. There's a massive field and we would go as a family, and we'd walk the dog. And then we'd go the other way around back and it was on to the 15th hole. You can't do it anymore. It's just bushes and shrubs that are on the ground. But there was always this little gap and we’d try to do a putt at the right time and even if it was just like a one shot on Birkdale... it was amazing. So yes, the story is true.
Then you look 20 years later in 2017 and I was playing in The Open at Birkdale. So that was a very special moment for me where I realized my life has come full circle and I was teeing up at The Open playing with Brooks Koepka and Hideki Matsuyama in the first two rounds in my hometown. It’s funny where the game can take you.
Bruce: You did not go to college. You turned pro very early and you were the number one ranked amateur in the world, I believe, when you were 17 years old?
Tommy: I was 19 at that time. You’re being very kind to me at 17 but it took me a bit longer.
Bruce: But to be the number one amateur in the world is incredible. Something we try to teach our CGGI kids is to get the opportunity to get an education. It gives you a backdrop if they don't turn out to be Tommy Fleetwood. Do you have any words of advice for our kids coming in here now that you know a little bit more about what the program does?
Tommy: Absolutely. And yes, I don’t want to use the word lucky, but there was luck involved. I would say I had a very clear vision and a very clear goal of what I wanted to do. And you know, I didn't have the opportunities that some kids had and I sort of had to turn pro at an early age and make my way that way.
Having said that, I've lived my life at the elite end of the game. I continue to try and do my best and I'm doing okay, but I have hundreds of friends that I spent my life with playing the game of golf and whether they are now playing for fun, whether they're a tour pro, whether they're a coach, or whether they're an agent, a statistician, whatever it is, there are millions of forms of golf in this world. The biggest thing about golf is what good it actually does for people, through friendships, to whatever it is.
As for an education, I would never tell my kids to do what I did. I do believe that the structure, the good habits, surrounding yourself with amazing people, the influences, all of those are a massive part of what makes you the person you are later in life. To have this is an unbelievable opportunity. I'm really excited for the people that do get to go through this and see what joy the game of golf brings them and what opportunities it gives them later on.
Bruce. This is our first year we're going to do a European camp. We've got two groups of 12 young men and women coming to Congaree and then we're taking our team to Archerfield Links, just outside of Gullane, Scotland. A lot of kids have gone to college here and gone to the European tour. Do you see them being better golfers than if they had maybe tried to turn pro early and not make it?
Tommy: I think everybody develops at a different rate. But I think that when I see younger guys, I say younger - they’re 22, 23 when they finish college - and they will come back as very well-rounded individuals. I think they have a lot of skills that don't necessarily require the golfing talent that carries them a long way. Again, I go back to structure, belief. I go back to good habits, the way they are with people and their motivations. I feel like a lot of them come out very ready to win from a competitive aspect.
From the day I turned pro and started growing up, I always had a massive interest in this style because I never did it. It was something that I didn’t necessarily miss out on, but it was always something that fascinated me because I had gone down a different path.
Bruce: Next week is very important. You’ll leave here and you’ll go up to the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. I've seen you practice this week at Congaree and I'm amazed at your enthusiasm. You're out hitting balls at 8 o'clock in the morning and you're still hitting balls at 5 o'clock. Has Congaree shaped your practice habits? What is something that you like about our golf course that you think you can take with you?
Tommy: I like that I just walk out of my room and I'm on the chipping green. That's one thing that's great about it. I think the course is incredibly challenging, fast, sloping, firm. And I think when you get the opportunity to train in conditions like that, it's rare that you can find places difficult enough to make your training hard. But when you go into competition, the courses are either similar or actually feel a little bit easier. And that's a massive opportunity for me to use that and be out there practicing.
It's so peaceful when you’re here. Golf is right there in front of you. There are people like you who love the game, who love hitting balls on the range and love talking about it and you have amazing conversations. And I think that for me, you know you have to get out of bed and you have to grind it out because it’s a passion, but it's also a job and there are times when you just do what you have to do because you know you have to keep going. But when you're surrounded by people who motivate you and inspire you and create that love for the game then that's a massive advantage.
Bruce: Well, you've inspired us, Tommy. We're very proud to have you as an Ambassador of Congaree and we wish you the best of luck and thanks for taking time to talk to our CGGI participants. You're a great man.
Tommy: Thank you very much. I’m happy to be part of it.