Tommy Fleetwood prepares for potentially hostile crowd in his first Ryder Cup on U.S. soil
VIRGINIA WATER, England — Tommy Fleetwood has some work to do if he wants to win the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. On five under par, the hirsute Englishman is likely to be in the lower half of the top 20 going into the weekend. So nothing less than some sensational golf over the next 36-holes will do.
No matter. Beyond this week, of course, Fleetwood has much to look forward to. As one of the few 100 percent mathematical certainties to make the European Ryder Cup side that will defend the trophy at Whistling Straits later this month, the world number 37 can be forgiven if his mind is already wandering towards Wisconsin.
“We were talking about the team the other night at dinner,” he said after completing his second round 68. “Right now, it is so hard to predict and work out. There is just so much going on. I take my lead from guys like Lee (Westwood), who have so much experience. He is just putting his head down and playing. Having said that, everyone in contention is going to be watching Bernd Wiesberger. There is no shying away from that.”
Indeed, with double points available in the European Tour’s “flagship event,” the Austrian is the man most likely to influence change amongst the nine automatic qualifiers.
“It’s been weird, really,” continued Fleetwood. “For a while it looked like the team was pretty much nailed on. But here we are and a lot can still happen. But whoever makes it will obviously be a fantastic player. It will all be fine, I’m sure.”
The subject at hand then shifted. As has been the case ever since the biennial contest became truly competitive back in the 1980s, the sometimes controversial role of the partisan crowds - especially in America - has been an issue. Many are the tales of visiting players being abused in a manner almost unheard of anywhere else in golf. So the Europeans are well aware of what they are likely to be up against, especially this year when spectators from Europe will be unable to travel across the Atlantic.
“It will be different over there,” acknowledged Fleetwood. “I have only played in one Ryder Cup and we had the home crowd on our side. I’m also used to having fans on my side pretty much every week. I’m not expecting them to be in my favor though. And it’s fine for anyone not to support us. Everyone gets heckled a little bit at times. It will be another challenge, another experience.
“I’ve been listening to guys like Poults, Lee and Paul Casey, guys who have done it a few times,” he continued. “They all say the same thing. You have to embrace it. You have to enjoy it in a way. That’s the only way you can thrive in that atmosphere. I can’t wait to see how it goes. I’ll be over there with my 11 teammates, the captains and our backroom staff. We become a family when we are there. I’m really excited about doing that with a new group of lads.”
Besides, Fleetwood does have some experience of playing in front of a crowd pulling almost exclusively for the other guy. At Royal Portrush in 2019, the Englishman pulled up second in the Open Championship, having played the final round in the company of eventual champion, Irishman Shane Lowry.
“At Portrush most people were against me,” said Fleetwood with a smile.” And it didn’t really go in my favor. That’s probably the closest I’ve been to what it will be like at Whistling Straits. But no one said anything bad to me at Portrush. They just wanted one person to win and that wasn’t me. So while I’ve been hacked the odd time, there has never been 60,000 of them shouting at me. But I’ll take it on the chin.”
Another difference for Fleetwood will come, given the absence of Francesco Molinari, with the identities of his partners in foursomes and four-ball play. There will be no repeat of the potent “Moliwood” combination that scored four points out of four at Le Golf National in 2018.
“I was so lucky last time to have that sort of partnership in my first Ryder Cup,” said Fleetwood. “When Fran was there, he was the most comfortable person I could be out with. I would love to play that role for someone else. I’d want my partner to feel that comfortable, thrive and play their best golf. I’m interested to see how the pairings go and how we all match up. I really do get on well with all the guys. And I like to think everyone would be fine about partnering up with me. But we’ll see. Whatever happens, we’ll all be giving it our best.”