SOUTHPORT, England – Tommy Fleetwood used to have to sneak onto Royal Birkdale. Don’t be surprised if the club gives him honorary membership if he wins the 146th Open Championship over the best links in his hometown.
Like many golf mad Southport residents, young Tommy was spoilt for choice when it came to links golf. Southport is to England what St. Andrews is to Scotland, the English golf capital. Residents have an array of great links to play: Hillside, Southport & Ainsdale, Formby, West Lancs, Hesketh and, of course, Royal Birkdale, the jewel in the crown.
Wee Tommy played them all, although he had to “bunk” onto Birkdale. In other words, sneak on. Tommy knew all the convenient access spots.
“You can’t sneak on the places that we used to sneak on anymore,” Fleetwood admitted. “The fifth was the place that used to be a lot more open. It’s got fences and bushes there now, so that’s gone.
“We were very clever about it, or my dad was, not me. Yeah, it’s a lot tougher these days.”
Even now, Fleetwood doesn’t manage as many rounds on the Open Championship venue, probably playing the course once a year. Still, much is expected of him this week given he’s got a home gig, he’s won twice on this year’s European Tour, and he’s World No. 14. His face on lampposts around the town are proof he’s one to watch this week.
“I don’t feel extra pressure from it,” Fleetwood said about his new notoriety. “Obviously, it’s going to be a different experience, for sure, something that I’ve never experienced before. But it will be great to have so many people out there rooting for you. It doesn’t happen all the time when you have that many people, and they all want you to do well. So I think it will be nice.
“For me growing up, Royal Birkdale wasn’t a course that I would be playing on. I’ve played it a few times. I’ve got mates that I’ve played with. You might get on once a year and have a game. But it’s very different turning up and getting out of the car and going and playing 18 holes to actually preparing for a tournament. You see things you wouldn’t quite know before and it is very different.
“Yeah, growing up, I mean, when I was very little, it was Royal Birkdale. If you ask anybody playing this week that’s been here before they’ll say it’s one of the best courses in the world, very arguably the best Open venue. If you live five minutes away, you’re going to try to get on when you can.
“I’ve thought about winning The Open since I was five years old.”
Six days from now and his dream might come true, and he’ll be welcome to play Royal Birkdale any time he wants.