Tommy Fleetwood made one of the most successful Ryder Cup debuts ever in 2018, taking four points as Team Europe cruised to victory in Paris in 2018.
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Now the 30-year-old is preparing for his second Ryder Cup appearance and his first on American soil as part of Padraig Harrington's side for the delayed clash at Whistling Straits.
The Englishman heads across the pond in improving form after a runners-up finish in Italy and a top 20 at the BMW PGA Championship, but he'll be seeking a new partner for the match in Wisconsin with the other half of 'Moliwood', Francesco Molinari, failing to made the team.
Together, Fleetwood and Molinari, formed a formidable partnership to win all four of their matches across the opening two days as Europe cruised to a 17½-10½ victory at Le Golf National.
But the five-time European Tour winner is one of the most versatile players in Harrington’s line-up and, despite being without his close friend, he is confident he can form a similarly successful partnership with any of his team mates, especially on a links-style course that should suit his game and his eye.
We caught up with the popular Englishman before he jetted off to the States and he talked through how he copes with the famous pressure-cooker atmosphere, the team chemistry and exactly which team he expects to be celebrating come Sunday night…
Tommy, let’s talk about your form heading to Whistling Straits, it’s really picked up the last couple of weeks.
It’s getting better, isn’t it. It’s been a tough year, your game ebbs and flows and you find form and you lose form.
I think the standard of golf is a joke at the moment. I shot five-under at Wentworth yesterday and moved up two places on a hard golf course.
I think when you aren’t playing well at the moment, it’s just getting highlighted, courses are tough, margins of errors are small and it’s hard to get momentum when it’s like that.
I’m happy that I’m sort of starting to play well. Italy was great (Fleetwood finished runner-up in the Italian Open at 2023 Ryder cup venue Marco Simone Golf Club), I put three-and-a-half rounds together. But just being up there in contention and hitting some shots under pressure was great.
At the end of the day, for what’s been a bit of a struggle of a year, I played well in The Open, I played in the Olympics and I’m playing in the Ryder Cup so it’s not that bad.
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Looking back on 2018, you forget how deep that squad was, don’t you?
I know, I watched it on TV last night, celebrating on the 16th. It was a piece of cake (Laughs).
You took four points from five matches in Paris. How good does it feel to be going back to the Ryder Cup this time?
I’m excited to play one in America, and just experience the different environment, I think from what the more experienced guys say, you have to sort of try and thrive in that environment, enjoy the fans being against you.
For me, what I took away from that last Ryder Cup was what a family everybody becomes, how together you all are and those memories and the bond you take with you.
I’m just so excited to be part of that again and go into hostile territory I guess and try and bring it home.
There'll be no 'Moliwood' in Wisconsin. Are you disappointed that you can't reform that partnership with Molinari and is there anyone you'd like to play with?
It's a shame, obviously. I loved playing with Frankie and we are very comfortable with each other, but I honestly don't mind who I play with and right now I don't know who that will be. But, whatever happens, I feel like I can play with anyone and we can bring home points for the team.
What’s it like in the team room, who are the ones that give you that buzz where your sort of raises the hairs on the back of the neck?
I think the amazing thing about Team Europe is from from Rory McIlroy or John Rahm to whoever anybody would consider the twelfth man if you like, everyone goes in on a completely even level.
Once you walk into Team Europe’s locker room or the team room, everybody is there to help each other. I think you have strong personalities that are an essential piece of the room. For instance it doesn’t matter what’s going on - Sergio (Garcia) will be right in the middle of it. And then you have the calm and quiet guys that are sort of a solid presence.
The thing about the Ryder Cup is that it’s such a humongous occasion. You see the scenes of fans there until all hours, hundreds of thousands of people watching on channels all across the world and then we have our twelve players, our wives and partners, caddies, captains, vice captains and the backroom staff and that’s all we have.
You don’t see anything else that week, you’re just in it together and that’s your bubble. Your life isn’t your own, there’s so much to do and then you play on a golf course and, for the first two days, there’s eight of you going out in front of 70,000 people, which we never do.
It means you just create this huge bond and, like I say, there’s always somebody to either pick you up if you need a bit of help, there’s always somebody to turn to if you want a bit of advice, and if you just want to sit there and be quiet then there’s always someone to sit next to and just be with.
It’s an amazing experience, it really is, and for such an individual sport, for us, it’s just the best occasion.
Whistling Straits is going to feel very different to Paris, though and, possibly, different to any previous Ryder Cups on American soil with Covid-19 making it hard for many European fans to atend. How are you preparing for that and how can you use such a partisan crowd to your advantage?
I don’t know whether you try and keep them quiet or you try and get them noisy because at least then it means you’re doing something right where they’re trying to put you off.
I just think it’s part of the Ryder Cup, the home and away fans. I’m really looking forward to seeing what it’s like, to play in that kind of environment. I mean, you always get the odd heckle, when you’re playing but to have thousands of them doing it at once will be different, for sure.
I’ve always been lucky where people have been very kind to me, connected with me a lot. I guess that’s not going to be the case at Whistling Straits but we’ll see. It’ll be fine. Like I say you do it together, win or lose, and then we’ll see where we are!
Are you expecting plenty of heckles aimed at the hair?
(Laughs) Probably. I mean, they can have a go at any part of me and I’ll take it on the chin.
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What do you make of Team USA? On paper they look phenomenal again, don’t they?
They always do. They’re an amazing bunch of players.
But I think the last two Ryder Cups, Europe have had a couple of the strongest teams we’ve ever had, including this one.
I think people forget though, you look at all the individual accolades that America has, I mean most of the biggest events in golf are played in America, so it’s likely that they’re going to have most of the titles, but we’ve got world number one which is always a bonus.
We had world number one last time, and we have an amazing record in the Ryder Cup. You come into an individual events and somebody will have a great record in that event and you’ll expect them to do well. Well, Europe have an amazing record in the Ryder Cup and I expect us to do great.
We have an amazing bond, we gel so well as a team and that’s a huge huge part of it. There’s no denying America are great, and it’s going to be very hard, but I don’t expect anything else but Europe to win, to be honest.
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Fighting talk! There are nine rookies in this Ryder Cup, three on Team Europe and six on Team USA, where it feels like there’s a changing of the guard. How do you feel about the rookies on Team Europe and the balance in the side?
I think the team looks great. I think rookies, especially these days, aren’t the same. The tournaments that we play in, the experiences that we gain now – and of course the Ryder Cup’s different – but rookies aren’t that much like rookies, I mean Shane’s won a major, and you know, you look at Victor Hovland and what he’s done already. Bernd Wiesberger’s won countless times and then the same on the American team.
So, yes, it’s a new experience for people, but rookies are vastly experienced and they’ve had massive, massive moments in their careers already leading up to a Ryder Cup, and people are doing it younger and younger so that tag doesn’t mean that much anymore. There are some amazing players.
Tell us about that 1st tee experience and what it’s like when you hit your opening tee shot at the Ryder Cup, especially the last time with 7000 people around you at Le Golf National.
I had a lucky first tee experience because you hear so many, I wouldn’t say horror stories because you’ve never seen anyone miss the ball, but people say they couldn’t put the ball on the tee, they were seeing three balls and had to hit the middle one,they didn’t know what to do and their grip felt like a baseball bat but, genuinely, I felt fine.
I mean, there were a few things. My goal for two years had been to be on that 1st tee on Friday morning and I felt like when I walked out there that I’d achieved something huge in my career. That kind of relaxed me. Plus I knew the course and I’d won on the course.
Then I had this blue Nike 5-wood which I never missed a shot with, until it cracked, and I was playing with Fran (Molinari), so there were so many familiar things that kind of relaxed me.
I had a really nice experience but you do hear some shockers. It’s still a very tough experience, though.
I was watching the Solheim Cup and they were all hitting a fairway wood – that isn’t the club I would choose to hit to be honest! Ideally I just want to pick the driver up and smash it somewhere and get on with it from there.
(Jose Maria) Olazabal told me a great story of when he was walking to the Ryder Cup and he was as nervous as anything and was playing with Seve. Seve put his arm round him and just said: “Look, make contact and we’ll deal with it from there.” And I feel like Seve was probably the most comfortable person you could play with and feel you could hit this anywhere and he’ll be fine. But it’s just a completely different experience to anything you normally get in golf.
Tommy Fleetwood is a Tag Heuer ambassador and wears the Tag Heuer Connected Golf Edition watch. View offer
He was speaking at the Tag Heuer Golf Day at Sunningdale Golf Club.
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