HOYLAKE, England (AP) — Tommy Fleetwood has experience of seeing a wave of support carry a home favorite all the way to the claret jug.
Fleetwood has imagined “a million times” the same thing happening to him on English soil. And there’s hardly anywhere better than at Royal Liverpool, close to where he grew up.
There’d be no more popular champion this week than Fleetwood, a 32-year-old distinctive because of his flowing locks.
“Winning the Open is a huge, huge dream. No matter where that is, that’s always something I’ve visualized and always thought about,” he said Wednesday.
“But then again, having the opportunity to do it so close to where you grew up is something that’s very unique and very special.”
Growing up, Fleetwood lived in a house just round the corner from Royal Birkdale, which he’d get on when accompanying his father, Peter, on evening dog walks. He was the poster boy when the Open was held there in 2017 and finished tied for 27th.
Hoylake is down the coast from Royal Birkdale, along the Irish Sea, and Fleetwood recalls playing it as a junior.
“I don’t know the course that well,” he said, before adding: “But I do know it better than most.”
This week will be memorable for Fleetwood whatever happens on the course. Friday marks the first anniversary of his mother’s death and it is one of the motivations fueling his run at a first major title.
“We know that that’s coming up,” Fleetwood said. “It would be nice to think she’s watching over.”
Fleetwood arrives at Royal Liverpool with three top-six finishes in his last four events, including a loss in a playoff with Nick Taylor at the RBC Canadian Open and a tie for fifth at the U.S. Open after a closing 63.
The 21st-ranked Fleetwood is among a group of players — including Matt Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton and Justin Rose — seeking to become the first Englishman since Nick Faldo in 1992 to win the British Open. Tony Jacklin, in 1969, was the last Englishman to win an Open in England.
CLARK AND ITALY
Wyndham Clark is the U.S. Open champion, and he looks forward to that time when he can see the silver trophy at home in Arizona and reflect on his marvelous feat.
That will have to wait. The U.S. Open ended on June 18. Clark still hasn’t been home.
He played the Travelers Championship the following week in Connecticut, and then has been in Europe ever since.
“I had a wedding in Italy,” Clark said. “So I went to Italy, and then I said, ‘Well, let’s just stay. We just won a major; let’s enjoy it.’ So my girlfriend and I stayed there for another 10 days and then played the Scottish last week.”
Clark likely can count on another trip to Italy. His two wins this year were big ones — the Wells Fargo Championship with its $20 million purse ($4 million to the winner) and the U.S. Open, which counts double toward the Ryder Cup.
That moved him to No. 2 in the U.S. standings and he is looking like a lock to make his Ryder Cup debut at Marco Simone outside Rome at the end of September.
Scottie Scheffler is the only player to have mathematically clinched a spot.
“I would like to think I’m on the team, but at the same time, I believe I’ve still got to go earn it,” Clark said.
The R&A already works with Augusta National on the Asia-Pacific Amateur, and with Augusta National and the USGA on the Latin America Amateur.
Now it’s going out on its own by creating a similar tournament for Africa.
Martin Slumbers, the CEO of the R&A, on Wednesday announced the African Amateur Championship. It will be Feb. 21-24 next year at Leopard Creek in South Africa, a 72-man field with 72 holes of stroke play.
The winner will earn a spot in the British Open next year at Royal Troon.
“It’s a hugely exciting initiative for African golf, and it’s the last part of the continent around the world where we don’t have our own championships that we now do,” Slumbers said.
The other two amateur championships have been successful. The Asia-Pacific Amateur produced two-time winner Hideki Matsuyama, who went on to win the Masters. Seven players in the field at the British Open have won the Asia Pacific or Latin American Amateur.
NOW ON THE TEE
The British Open typically has a local connection hit the opening shot of the tournament, such as Paul Lawrie at St. Andrews last year or Darren Clarke at Royal Portrush in 2019.
This year the choice was easy.
Matthew Jordan not only grew up in the area, he’s a member at Royal Liverpool. Jordan earned his place through Final Local Qualifying two weeks ago.
Tommy Fleetwood knows him well.
“I actually played with him when he was like 16 around here, and I remember coming off and saying, ‘This kid is really, really good.’ I think he’ll continue to grow, but this is a great week and opportunity for him. Being at your home course, it doesn’t always follow. You know the course well, but that doesn’t mean loads.
“But it’s a great opportunity. Hopefully he’ll get a bit of momentum going early doors and see what he can do.”
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