The Low Side Miss
Nine feet from immortality, Thomas Paul Fleetwood, first of his name, watched helplessly as his ball rolled perfectly end-over-end for eight of those feet and some change, before drifting deliriously to the right and narrowly catching a piece of the hole. The 62 that wasn’t, on the nation’s most stern test of championship golf (sorry, Oakmont), would also have been enough to likely force a playoff with Brooks Koepka and an opportunity to cap off his second majestic round–amid a brutal week–with a sterling sliver cherry on top. Two weeks later, I’m still thinking about that putt on Shinnecock’s 18th green. I can only imagine Tommy has sprung from his slumber on a night or two in a cold sweat about it.
Or maybe not. A native of dreary Southport, Merseyside, Tommy’s working-class upbringing crafted a young man as level-headed, humble, and appreciative as any professional golfer you will find. And, among family, I’m near-certain Fleetwood has had a good upheaval (read: man cry) about coming up one shot shy of a chance to give Johnny Miller a proper ribbing til the end of time (and writing his name atop his own page the history books). But outwardly, he’s shown the same affinity for being likable, intuitive, and keeping it all in perspective. If you don’t believe me, all you need to read is his reaction to being presented with his second-place prize: “Well, there you go,” Fleetwood said. “My first medal. Thank you very much.”
I’ve been like his Uncle Mick beating the drum for Fleetwood since early 2017…you know…the first time he won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship by one shot over Dustin Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal. Since that breakthrough, Tommy has been a human ATM on both tours, with a dozen top 10 finishes worldwide, including a victory at the 2017 HNA Open de France, runner-up finishes in Mexico and China, a solo fourth at Erin Hills, winning the 2017 Race to Dubai (with nearly $5 million in on-course earnings), successfully defending at Abu Dhabi, and then putting stacks on top of stacks and making it rain on Cat’s dinghy in The Hamptons. (Okay so I made that last part up, but wouldn’t you be willing to bet the $1,280,000 check he cashed was a tasty hair of the dog for his Monday morning hangover?)
“Fleetwood the Flusher,” as he was lovingly dubbed by Tron and Soly after personally witnessing his mystifying ballstriking, has every bit enough talent, intestinal fortitude, and staying power to eventually win multiple majors over his career. While my summer home on Fleetwood Island is sure to keep getting more crowded as he racks up one stellar finish after another, we have a very lax immigration policy:
“Give me your traj, your sauce, your huddled golf nerds yearning to card threes. The drunken refuse of your stuffy club. Send these, the hackers, tempest-tossed to me. On #FleetwoodIsland, we’ve cold pints in the pub.”
— Dustin (@ThisIsDFo) June 19, 2018
So I’ll pour one out for Tommy’s Sunday Shinny Sixty-Three, but I have a feeling we’ll be raising a glass to toast his maiden win in the United States before long. A star is being born right before our eyes, and I’m very thankful to be along for the ride. Crack on, Tommy Lad.
Parlez vous Français?
Fleetwood, nearing the end of a long and exasperating run of golf, is set to defend his title this week at the HNA Open de France. One of the longest-running tournaments in Europe, and part of the Rolex Series, the Open de France sports a $7,000,000 purse–enough coin to attract the European Tour’s best and brightest. Given the host venue of Le Golf National, it is also an opportunity for European Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjorn to see how individual members of his squad perform and react to the course set-up. For the bubble boys hoping to make the team, this week is a chance to show why LGN is the perfect course on which to plant a flag.
For these reasons, it is supremely disappointing to see exactly one (ONE!!!1!) United States Ryder Cupper in the field: Justin Thomas. Although, it is remarkably #OnBrand for us to send The Ambassador himself to “open up diplomatic relations” as a false flag operation while surreptitiously gathering sensitive intelligence. While I’m sure he’s been instructed by Furyk to take copious notes on his scouting mission, one would think the U.S. Team would be chomping at the bit to get an early look at this shortish, quirky course (and a taste of what kind of crowd fervor to expect). Alas, I guess most of the Yank squad would rather take a week off or suck up to Tiger at The National…it just seems like a missed opportunity to prepare for what is sure to be a raucous event.
Meanwhile, the stout field in France is sure to provide some fireworks this weekend. With a 1.5 points multiplier, and no other Ryder Cup qualification points available anywhere else in the world this week, there is a chance for hopefuls to make a big splash, either on the Points List or in one of Le Golf National’s numerous water hazards.
Movers and Shakers
Since our last installment of The Eurozone, we’ve had several significant events start to thin the herd and crystallize the team picture. While a full blown Ryder Cup update makes sense likely after The Open Championship, for now, here are a few gentlemen to really start keeping an eye on as they move closer to a wild card selection:
Francesco Molinari: Molinari won the first Rolex Series tournament of the year, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. He notched his fifth career European Tour victory by going bogey-free on the weekend, demonstrating incredible mettle with one clutch swing after another on Sunday afternoon. The victory netted Molinari $1,000,000 and vaulted him from “best of the rest” into the third position in the R2D and an automatic qualification spot under the European Points list in fourth position. Captain Bjorn was eating it up, too:
— Thomas Bjorn (@thomasbjorngolf) May 27, 2018
It’s hard to imagine Francesco not making the team at this point, as his ballstriking will be a valuable foursomes asset and his experience will be sorely needed on a young team.
Thorbjorn Olesen: Olesen won the following week at the Italian Open on a picturesque track called Gardagolf CC in Brescia. The lights out -22 performance for Thorbjorn in the second Rolex Series event launched him from afterthought to fifth on the European Points list, overtaking a number of stalwarts including Rory, Rahm, RCB, and Noren. Thunder Bear is a notoriously streaky player that has probably underachieved in his career if we’re being honest. As another potential rookie, I’m not sure Olesen is a prime candidate for a wild card selection absent a run of very convincing golf this summer, but he does share Danish citizenship with Captain Bjorn, so there’s that? Of course, another win or two and Thorbjorn could find himself knocking someone like Fitzpatrick, Levy, or Casey from their perch.
Ian Poulter and Paul Casey: Poulter and Casey both had their chances to hoist a trophy in the last two weeks, respectively. Though both came up short, each added cachet to their resumes and all-important World Points to their standings. Casey now finds himself as an automatic qualifier in the eighth position on the World Points list, and Poulter sits tenth.
Alex Levy and Ross Fisher: Moving in the other direction are Levy and Fisher. Neither showed particularly well at the US Open (MC at +17 for Levy; T48 for Fisher). Fisher still sits at ninth in the European Points standings, but Levy has slid to 16th, and neither fare better in the World Points. Of the two, Levy likely has a higher ceiling for reasons previously discussed in the last column, and has a massive chance this week to cap a second victory of the season in his home country, virtually locking up a spot on sentimentality as much as merit. Fisher needs to find some serious form, and fast, if he wants to capitalize on his points accumulation from early in the qualification cycle.
All four rounds of the HNA Open de France will be broadcast on Golf Channel.
Thursday and Friday 6/28 and 6/29: 4:00 AM EDT – 12:00 PM EDT
Saturday and Sunday 6/30 and 7/1: 7:30 AM EDT – 12:30 PM EDT
*Feature Image photo cred: The Independent (UK)