The golfer who should suit Augusta… but his best Masters finish is only 14th. TOMMY FLEETWOOD on his plan for the course that ‘kicks you’

It says something about the quality of Tommy Fleetwood that he is so closely associated with two recurring thoughts of golf. Both play the same question: who is the next man?

In simpler times, we might have asked this solely in the context of who will be the next to break his or her destiny in the majors. But today it also explores LIV’s contemporary drama and their next set of targets.

Fleetwood was of course mentioned with some regularity in each of those conversations; a golfer who is regularly on the brink of a crash and a golfer who is too good not to receive offers from an ambitious start-up circuit.

As he sits with Mail Sport in the Florida sunshine, with the first major of the season in two weeks’ time at The Masters, we begin with the matter at hand. That’s the harder thing to achieve.

“It hasn’t happened yet, has it?” he says, and we’re talking about a record that shows the world number 12 having finished second in both The Open and US Open, with three more top-five finishes in those two and the US PGA Championship.

Tommy Fleetwood is looking to put his previous problems at this year’s Masters behind him

The 33-year-old has finished in the top 20 in three of the past six years at Augusta National

The 33-year-old has finished in the top 20 in three of the past six years at Augusta National

August? That’s a beast this 33-year-old Englishman has yet to tame and it’s a little mind-boggling when you weigh the merits of a player whose ball-striking is the envy of most on tour, whose natural appeal fits perfectly into the landscape. , and whose well is strong. Baffling to those of us who watched him, and baffling to him too, it seems.

‘Believe me, I see it that way!’ he says. ‘My results there were a bit “meh” – I was tied for 14th a few years ago and that’s my best.

‘I can’t really put my finger on it. The second year I played The Masters was 2018. I had a very good third round and played the third to last group on Sunday. I felt like, “Well, this is a great course for me,” but it can always kick you, right?

“That Sunday I think I put it in the water on 15 and then bogeyed it and finished 17th. It’s not really what you want, right?

“If I tell my kids when they grow up that I got a 14th and a 17th at The Masters, that’s fine, right? Maybe they’ll let me out for that. But it’s just not on the level of the others. This year I looked at things and I thought, “Well, I never played the week before,” and that’s the only major I didn’t play. I’m going to try that (at the Valero Open in Texas) and we’ll see if that helps.”

Fleetwood has always been a man for whom people wish the best. He’s smart, funny, and not remotely concerned with ideas about his own importance.

“I was hitting golf balls for a course,” he says. And he’s doing it well. People like him. But they also include him in the discussions about the best player without one of the four major titles to his name.

“It’s a bit of a backhanded compliment, isn’t it?” he says. ‘It’s a difficult one. It’s nice that people see my game like that, but believe me, I want to get off that list.

Although regarded as one of the sport's best players, Fleetwood still lacks a major title

Although regarded as one of the sport’s best players, Fleetwood still lacks a major title

Fleetwood admitted that the course at Augusta 'always has a way of kicking you'

Fleetwood admitted that the course at Augusta ‘always has a way of kicking you’

“I think it’s important to remember that there are some phenomenal golfers who haven’t won a major. How can anyone destroy Lee Westwood’s career? Incredible. But he never won a major. Colin Montgomerie was one of my heroes growing up. He won eight Order of Merits, but never won a major outright.

“There are better golfers than me who have never won one. I still have a few good years left in my career, but I just have to keep giving myself opportunities. I’d like to win one, two, three, but to get two, you have to get one first.

‘For me, growing up in Southport, surrounded by Open venues, winning The Open is the one I dream about. I still dream about it like I’m seven years old. I will always say that if you had to pick one to win and never touch the clubs again, for me The Open is streets ahead in a way.

“But I think The Masters would be fun, right? I still have the old BBC opening credits soundtrack in mind when I talk about it now. If I had to have a green jacket in the closet, I would tolerate it!’

To date, Fleetwood has won seven titles on the European circuit, the latest in January in his home city of Dubai, although curiously none have been achieved in the United States. With five second-place finishes, four third-place finishes, 22 top fives and 33 top 10s, he has done everything but win, although his mark was felt by the Americans last year when he took the decisive point in Europe’s Ryder Cup victory.

Spaniard Jon Rahm holds the Masters title after his victory in April last year

Spaniard Jon Rahm holds the Masters title after his victory in April last year

It speaks to the six-month turbulence in golf that has played on two key cogs of Luke Donald’s team – Jon Rahm, the defending Masters champion, and Tyrrell Hatton – now on the LIV tour. It is known that they wanted Fleetwood from the very beginning and the last attempt to get him was made shortly after the cup win in Rome.

They didn’t get their man, with Fleetwood preferring to stay on the PGA Tour. At least for now. Given the uncertainties of the political situation in his sport, with merger talks yet to determine how the LIV and PGA Tour might coexist, and how LIV golfers might find a route back to the majors, it’s probably wise to to take on an observation assignment.

“You know, I’m 33 years old and I’m still in the middle of my career,” he says. “My decisions will always be made based on where I believe I can best pursue my goals and dreams, and where I feel I can still be the best golfer I can be.

“Obviously, I’m still playing here (on the PGA Tour) and that’s where I believe I have the best opportunity to do the things I just mentioned.

Fleetwood said he is 'in the best place for me to pursue my dreams of winning majors'

Fleetwood said he is ‘in the best place for me to pursue my dreams of winning majors’

“I mean, I’m never going to be one to ignore someone else’s choices or decisions. And I think you have to give things time and see how things go.

‘As we have seen, there are people at a much higher level (than the golfers themselves) who made decisions about where the golf world is. It would be great if the best players all played together and if we all challenged ourselves against the best players.

“But for me right now, I just believe I’m in the best place to pursue my dreams of winning majors.”

Will he be the next man? That remains to be seen on a few points.