Following a distinguished amateur career in which he won both the Scottish and English Amateur championships, Tommy Fleetwood showed he was going to be a force in the professional ranks as well when he won the European Challenge Tour rankings in 2011.
With a victory in the Kazakhstan Open that year, Fleetwood topped the rankings on the European Tour’s feeder tour, becoming the youngest player ever to do so at the age of 20 years and 290 days.
His rookie season on the European Tour in 2012 was largely uneventful, but he again showed his ability to rise to the occasion when he recorded a top 10 finish in the South African Open, his final tournament of the season, to secure his card for 2013.
Then in 2013 he made the breakthrough many had expected him to make when he beat Stephen Gallacher and Ricardo Gonzalez in a playoff for the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.
“It feels absolutely amazing. It’s a lifetime goal that's been taken care of and hopefully I can move on and win some more. To call yourself a European Tour winner is just awesome,” he said after his triumph.
And the 23-year-old English golfer brought a fresh perspective to his experience that week with a very honest assessment of how he felt.
“I was nervous as hell on the first green, and after that, I felt pretty calm and I felt fine within myself. But to win is just absolutely amazing. You look at all the winners on Tour and, I’ll admit, I’m so jealous when somebody wins, but finally it’s my turn.”
As he challenges for one of the biggest first place cheques in world golf on his debut in the Nedbank Golf Challenge, one thing you can be sure of is that Fleetwood doesn’t have any big plans for what he would do with the money if he won.
“I’m probably the most unmaterialistic person in the world. Winning is enough for me. Winning is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’m not really – the money that goes with it is obviously fantastic, but it doesn't really mean that much to me. It’s all about winning. Winning is what we play for really. Everybody starts off with the same chance, and you see people winning, how happy they are, and I just had to wait a little longer than I wanted to before I won. But the feeling of winning is just what I want really.”
This year, Fleetwood has established himself as a major contender on the European Tour. He started his season with a finish of tied third in the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa. Then he added finishes of second in the Volvo China Open and then had back-to-back finishes of second in the Wales Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship amidst a host of other top 10s.
And through it all he hasn’t been shy to admit he’s still learning as much as he can on tour, and is more than happy to ask the advice of the veteran professionals.
“At this point in my career I’m just trying to learn and make the most out of the opportunities that are given to me. I actually get a little bit nervous playing with the older guys like José Maria Olazábal, because they have done so much in the game. He’s won two Masters and they know it all and I always want to kind of impress them and show that I can play a bit. But I think it’s important that you take those chances you get when you play with people like that, and ask them what you can improve on.”
Fleetwood is certainly seen as one of the bright young stars of the European Tour, and he welcomes this.
“It's great to have those other top young players around you because it motivates you. They are all motivated and they are all thinking about getting better and winning tournaments, and that ups your game. It’s great to be surrounded by the best possible people and the guys that want to get good and the guys that want to get to the top of the game, and that makes you want to practise harder.”