Beneath Tommy Fleetwood's fun-loving exterior is a competitor who wants more
Tommy Fleetwood has accomplished a lot in the last three years.
In 2017, playing mostly on the European Tour, he won twice en route to winning the tour’s Race To Dubai title and, while he was at it, threw in a fourth-place finish at Erin Hills in the U.S. Open and finished second to Dustin Johnson in the WGC-Mexico Championship.
A year ago, playing the majority of his tournaments in the U.S. for the first time, he finished second at Shinnecock Hills in the Open, coming up one stroke shy of Brooks Koepka after shooting a remarkable final-round 63. And then came the Ryder Cup. He and Francesco Molinari teamed for Europe in Paris and went 4-0. Twice, they beat the U.S. pairing of Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed. They also beat Woods a third time when he teamed with Bryson DeChambeau on Saturday afternoon. Molinari went on to beat Phil Mickelson for the clinching point on Sunday afternoon. Fleetwood couldn’t quite match Molinari’s five-for-five, losing his singles match to Tony Finau.
But what made Fleetwood a true breakout star was what happened that night at the afterparty celebrating Europe’s easy win. Someone from the European Tour had an idea. “It sounded a bit strange, but it was late into the evening and we were all sort of … loose,” Fleetwood said, laughing at the memory nine months later. “So, we went up to one of the rooms, someone took out a cell phone and we went from there.”
The video shot on that cell phone lasted 21 seconds but it quickly went viral. In it, Fleetwood and Molinari are seen waking up in bed together. Molinari is wearing an undershirt and Fleetwood, um, nothing.
“It just happened that way,” Fleetwood said. “We decided one of us would have a shirt on, the other one not. I got picked to take my shirt off, so I just took my clothes off and hopped into bed.”
It took several takes before Fleetwood and Molinari nailed it. Molinari “wakes up,” first and shakes the “sleeping” Fleetwood. Drowsily, Fleetwood opens his eyes and says: “How good was that for you?”
Molinari shrugs and says: “Four out of four?”
Fleetwood shrugs and answers: “I give you five out of five, Frankie.”
It was all ad-libbed and it was brilliant, exactly the kind of thing that sets the European Tour apart from the PGA Tour. If two American players had been in a video like that, they probably would have been fined (secretly) for conduct unbecoming a PGA Tour player.
Reed, who is friends with Fleetwood—everyone on both tours seems to be friends with him—cracks up talking about the video.
“Look, I’d go to war with any of my Ryder Cup teammates,” Reed said. “But I wouldn’t go to bed with any of them.”
Last Thursday, at the Travelers Championship, I conducted a Q&A with Fleetwood and Molinari in front of about 200 people. Naturally, I was looking for an amusing way to begin the evening. So, my first question to Fleetwood was, “So can you explain how you ended up in bed with Francesco Molinari?”
Fleetwood didn’t miss a beat: “Which time?” he answered with a straight face.
The entire room cracked up.
When Reed stopped laughing he said, “I gotta tell you Tommy, just because you have a successful partnership with someone doesn’t mean you have to go to bed with them.”
Fleetwood smiled. “You know something Patrick, you Americans need to loosen up.”
There is frequently truth in humor.
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Fleetwood can be as self-deprecating as he is deadpan. To many golf fans, the 28-year-old Englishman is the guy with the long hair and beard—Reed calls him “Baby Jesus”—and the story about how the long hair came about, around the time he turned pro, is pure Fleetwood.
“My brother [who is 10 years older and was also a pro for a while] and I were sitting around at home one day and we had this idea that we’d go down to the local hairdresser and get our heads shaved just for laughs. Our parents were out, so we said, ‘Let’s just go do this.’ My hair was pretty normal length at that point.
“When my parents came home, my mother took one look at us and started to cry. I looked flat-out strange because I have a funny-shaped head. It’s almost like a conehead. My brother was OK, me not so much.”
That was when Fleetwood decided to let his hair grow to shoulder length, and he’s seen no reason to cut it short since then.
Fleetwood has played a full schedule on the PGA Tour for the last two years and intends to play here in the future while playing enough in Europe to maintain his Ryder Cup eligibility. Like most players, he loved his first Ryder Cup experience and wants to be part of the team forever—or as long as possible, whichever comes first.
“It’s funny, because guys talk so much about the first tee and all the nerves and how hard it can be to draw the club back,” he said. “Because of that, all I thought about once I knew I was on the team was the first tee. I don’t think I ever once envisioned what came after that.
“I got lucky, because the first-hole tee shot [at Le Golf National] was a 5-wood, and that’s my favorite club. I hit it well and, after that, I was OK.”
Because the matches ended up being so one-sided, people forget that the U.S. won the first three four-ball matches on Friday morning, leaving Fleetwood and Molinari with the only chance for a point against Reed and Woods.
They were 1 up through 15 before Fleetwood made a 15-foot birdie putt at the 16th and then a bomb at the 17th to wrap up the match, 3 and 1.
“I really hadn’t done very much before then. I needed to make that putt at 16 because Frankie couldn’t do everything,” Fleetwood said, then smiled. “Then I fluked the long one in at 17.”
That was the only time the duo had to go past the 15th hole in order to win. They were quickly dubbed “Mollywood,” and their status became legendary after the video went viral.
For the record, Fleetwood is happily married to Clare Craig, who he met in 2015 when she became his agent. They were married two years later and have a 22-month-old son and two boys—12 and 11—that Clare had previously.
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Fleetwood describes their spouse/agent/player relationship succinctly: “It works very well,” he said. “I do all I’m told when needed to.”
They’re currently looking for a house in Orlando, in part because of golf but also because there’s a non-stop flight from Orlando International to Manchester, which is about an hour from Southport, where Fleetwood grew up and where his parents and boyhood friends still live.
“It’s good for me to get home and re-connect with everyone,” he said. “I need to be able to do that, especially now spending so much time in the States.”
Fleetwood’s caddie, Ian Finnis, was his best friend growing up and was best man in his wedding. His close friends are very close friends. In fact, one of the reasons he misses playing as much on the European Tour is the spirit.
“A lot of the tour is in Asia now and when we’re there, we all tend to stay in the same hotel, go to dinner together, often travel together,” he said. “Over here, everyone’s pretty much on their own.
“I miss that camaraderie, but the standard of play is higher over here. I think all of us eventually want to play here at some point. And the money’s better.”
Fleetwood has made a little more than $2.1 million in the U.S. this season (he also has a recent T-8 at the British Masters) and calls his year to date, “just OK.” He finished T-3 at Bay Hill and T-5 at the Players. He also finished second in New Orleans, partnering with Sergio Garcia after Molinari decided not to play. There have been no videos of Fleetwood and Garcia in bed. Of course, they didn’t win.
After finishing T-13 at the Travelers on Sunday, Fleetwood is 40th on the FedEx points list and 20th in the Official World Golf Ranking. That’s not as good as he wants—he’s been as high as ninth—but he’s not panicking.
“Golf’s not an easy game,” he said. “You keep working at it and, sooner or later, something good will happen.”
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Something great almost happened at Shinnecock a year ago. Out early on Sunday, Fleetwood shot a seven-under-par 63 to finish at two-over-par 282. “When I finished I just had this feeling it was going to be one-shot short,” he said during the appearance in Hartford. “Can’t tell you why, just did. Then when Brooks missed the green at 11 and again at 12, I thought maybe …
“But he somehow got up and down at both holes.” He paused for a second and added softly with a laugh, “the bastard.”
Fleetwood was right—Koepka beat him by one shot. His memory of that day isn’t the 63, but coming up one shot shy of a playoff.
“Honestly, when I think about that day, it hurts,” he said. “To be so close but come up short. I don’t think about the 63. I think about not winning.”
That’s the competitive side of Fleetwood. He’s got plenty of money right now and is very much a star in Europe because of his Ryder Cup performance. But he wants more. He wants to play well in more Ryder Cups. He wants to win a major championship.
And, he wants to keep having fun at all times. Which makes him entirely unfit for the PGA Tour.