From patron to player, Tommy Fleetwood set for Masters debut

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From patron to player, Tommy Fleetwood set for Masters debut

PGA Tour

From patron to player, Tommy Fleetwood set for Masters debut

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The first time Tommy Fleetwood came to Augusta National was in 2014 when he came as a patron, ranked 105th in the world with aspirations of getting back to the Masters the next year, only as a competitor.

He wanted to lay his eyes on the tall pines, perfectly-manicured grass, stunning undulations and iconic clubhouse, so that maybe when he finally got his chance to play he wouldn’t be as starstruck. He flocked to famous spots – the site of Bubba Watson’s green jacket-winning hook-wedge from the right trees at No. 10 in 2012, and the place in the pine straw at No. 13 where Phil Mickelson threaded the trees en route to his 2010 victory.

His favorite spot, though, he couldn’t quite get to.

“The 12th green and 13th tee were the ones,” Fleetwood said, referencing the far corner of the course’s most famous corner, Amen Corner. “When you’re watching it, it’s so busy behind the 12th tee, and they look like the most tranquil place on the planet. … I was looking at that and my shoulders were getting barged out of the way, and that’s where I wanted to be. That was my biggest memory of that point, because that moment, I thought, well, I want to get there.”

A couple of weeks after that Augusta trip, Fleetwood finished second at the Volvo China Open to jump to 78th in the world rankings. Back-to-back top 10s on the European Tour later in the year got him to No. 63. And a fourth-place finish in Thailand moved him to No. 52 in the year’s third-to-last ranking.

All Fleetwood needed to do in his final event of 2014 was post a solid finish in Dubai and he would’ve cracked the top 50, earning that coveted Masters invite. However, Fleetwood missed the cut, and he finished the year ranked 51st, a spot behind Danny Willett.

Adding salt to the wound, Fleetwood reached as high as 47th in the world the next year only to finish at No. 78, and then dropped as low as No. 188 in 2016 before ending at No. 100.

“(The Masters) wasn’t in our thoughts at all and it wasn’t even in our thoughts at start of this year,” Fleetwood said.  “I wasn’t in the event. When we set out goals at the start of the year, I wanted to be opening my Masters invite at the end of the year.”

That invite came quicker than Fleetwood expected. He won in Abu Dhabi, beating Dustin Johnson, among others, and then a runner-up finish to Johnson in Mexico rocketed Fleetwood to No. 35 in the world.

Three years after his scouting trip, the 26-year-old Englishman will make his Masters debut.

“Yeah, it doesn’t disappoint when you arrive and you drive down Magnolia Lane,” Fleetwood said.

Fleetwood told Golfweek during a pre-Masters event put on by Nike at Sage Valley Golf Club that he has limited expectations. He knows he’s at a disadvantage being a first-timer.

“I’ve not got any experience of missing it in certain spots or knowing what is a horrendous chip shot or knowing that you can’t go there,” said Fleetwood, who has already pegged it in practice with Mark O’Meara, Lee Westwood and Billy Foster. “That’s what a first‑timer is missing, but I’ll try my hardest to get as much as I can. … It all depends on how you play, as well. At the end of the day, you can play terribly, so that makes no difference at all.

“Hopefully I can make a good showing of myself. Stranger things have happened.”

The last first-timer to win the Masters? Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. No wonder Fleetwood was quick to sign up with Zoeller for Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest.

“I thought maybe that might give me some vibes,” Fleetwood said.

Fleetwood was feeling similar vibes on Monday when he arrived at his favorite spot at Amen Corner. Once he reached the 12th green he turned around and looked back at the crowd, the same crowd he was a part of in 2014.

“I stopped for a little moment there,” Fleetwood said, “because I thought, ‘Yeah, we’ve got there now.’ “

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