SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Tommy Fleetwood could’ve been a boxer because the 27-year-old Englishman has an ability to take a few punches and fight back.
While several of golf’s biggest names will leave Shinnecock Hills Friday evening battered and bruised, Fleetwood is still standing. Sure, he absorbed some early blows from Thursday afternoon’s heavy winds, but his second-round 4-under 66 in Friday morning’s calmer-but-rainy conditions has him within striking distance at the 118th U.S. Open, just five shots back of World No.1 Dustin Johnson.
“I do quite like it in sort of a funny way,” Fleetwood said of the major-championship fight.
Fleetwood had previously played in two U.S. Opens before this week. He tied for 27th at Chambers Bay in 2015 and then finished solo fourth last year at Erin Hills. He’s relishing his first crack at a traditional U.S. Open venue, especially a Shinnecock Hills layout that has been toughened by strong westerly winds.
The blustery conditions flustered Fleetwood early on Thursday. Through his first 15 holes, he had yet to make a birdie and was 6 over.
“Just no matter what I did, the ball just did the opposite of what I was trying to,” said Fleetwood, who needed 35 putts to get through his opening round.
But he stayed patient – his best quality, he says – and finally got an 8-footer for birdie to fall at the par-5 16th hole. Two closing pars left him in a good mindset despite battling exhaustion after spending more than five hours getting battered by the golf course.
It was Fleetwood, though, who got the first jab in Friday morning, birdieing the par-4 10th hole. And though he gave a shot right back at the par-3 11th, that would be one of just two bogeys he made all day.
When the rain and wind reach their peaks, Fleetwood kept his head down. He made a handful of gritty par saves to close off his back nine before hitting 5-wood to 45 feet and pouring in a long birdie putt at the par-3 second.
“It was windy and it was cold and the rain was coming down,” Fleetwood said. “It was literally counting holes down and trying to survive and make pars. … When the weather is bad, I kind of have that in me.”
Fleetwood birdied three of his last five holes to post the round of the championship so far. Fleetwood’s caddie and longtime friend, Ian Finnis, has seen rounds like this out of Fleetwood before.
Last summer at the British Open in Fleetwood’s hometown of Southport, Fleetwood opened in 6-over 76 at Royal Birkdale. A day later, in miserable weather, Fleetwood posted a 69 to make the cut, setting up a weekend rally that ended in a T-27 finish.
“That’s Tommy, he just keeps going,” Finnis said. “… That Friday at Birkdale was the best round he’s ever had. By a mile.”
Fleetwood’s 18 holes Friday at Shinnecock weren’t too far behind. Neither was his cumulative 72-hole performance last year at Erin Hills. Yes, Fleetwood, ranked 12th in the world, is developing a reputation for hanging tough in the toughest tournaments.
“I can stand up and I can compete in the biggest tournaments in the world,” Fleetwood said.
So far, through two rounds of a heavyweight battle at Shinnecock, Fleetwood is doing both.