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“Tommy is one of the best in the world”: Fleetwood’s First Coach Speaks

Besides being the World Number 13 and European Number One – who is Tommy Fleetwood really?

According to Norman Marshall, his first ever golf coach who still stays in touch to this day, one of the most talented and warm-hearted golfers the world has ever produced. He sat down recently to preview the new season, as well as look ahead to the Masters.

1) I believe you met Tommy Fleetwood at the age of 6. Was it always obvious from a young age that he would be a star?

When I first saw Tommy’s game, he was the best junior golfer I’d ever seen. That said, I was quite a young golf coach back then. Looking back now, with the benefit of years of experience – it only becomes more apparent what a golfing genius he truly was! A truly world-class talent, even then.

What’s more, it’s not just talent at that age that makes a difference, it’s carrying it on. I’ve probably seen five or six equally talented golfers at that age since, but so far, none of them have persevered to the same level.

2) What was his biggest strength as a young player?

His power relative to his bodyweight was extraordinary, but the part of his game that impressed me the most (and still does) is his desire to put the practise in when he got the chance. Hours upon hours out on the course, it’s the only way.

He loved golf, but what you really need as a keen young golfer, when you can’t just walk to the course – is a supportive parent, someone to drive you around. With Tommy, it was the commitment of his dad that really impressed me, his willingness to help and give his son every opportunity to follow his passion.

3) Is Tommy still a Southport boy at heart?

He is very much still a Southport lad, yes. We see him in Southport a lot. In fact, for a world-class golfer, he probably plays more golf than anyone with everyday golfers – his dad and his mates. He’s got a Southport heart too.

In fact, very recently – back in December – we held a local junior golf tournament where unfortunately one of the boy’s parents, came from Southport, his dad had died suddenly of sepsis.

The organiser wanted to put on a fundraiser at Formby Hall – where I’m the head golf pro, and asked me, “Is there any chance you can get Tommy involved?”

Now, bear in mind, when he asked me – Tommy was right in the middle of the Race to Dubai, trying to become the best golfer in Europe, so it wasn’t an ideal time. However, I managed to get a message through to Tommy’s dad asking him about the fundraiser. To my surprise, his immediate response was “yes, we’d love to come.”

Now, bear in mind, like most top professional golfers – Tommy’s schedule is mapped out with his management almost a year in advance, so he had to move quite a few things around last minute to make the time to come, which is practically unheard of. It was extremely touching.

December 27th dawned, and sure enough, Tommy turned up at Formby Hall and basically spent the whole day there, presented the trophies and must have signed 150 autographs for all the junior players. He’s got a real heart for Junior golf, Tommy. A lot of golfers talk a good game, but he delivers. He’s a kind, genuine man.

It’s the same when you see him at The Open, he’s always there the longest, signing autographs and meeting people.

4) Speaking of The Open, what was it like having it in Southport last year?

It was enormously exciting. Of course, Southport has long been a famous golfing town, but what I’ve found is that despite how much grassroots golf support there is here, it has historically produced very few world-class golfers.

And yet, all of a sudden, we’re in a golden era of Southport talent. Matthew Baldwin – a Tour player, Lee Flattery – comfortably in the European Top 100, and of course Tommy is the star.

5) How much do you think winning the Race to Dubai will have meant to Tommy?

A great deal. Firstly, it has catapulted him right to the upper stratosphere of golfing stardom – which is where he deserves to be.

Clearly, Tommy’s next goal in 2018 will be to win a major, and winning the Race to Dubai will only add to his confidence in being able to achieve it.

What’s more, it’s an undeniable geographical fact that three of the world’s four majors are played in America, so his Race to Dubai means it makes sense that he will spend more time than ever in the States this year to improve his chances at majors – albeit coming back for European Tour events to keep his card.

6) Bizarrely, having finished the year as the European No.1 thanks to the Order of Merit, there are several bookmakers who have his odds of winning the Masters as high as 80/1. Do you think that’s accurate?

I mean, having finished the year as the top player in Europe, and just winning the Abu Dhabi Championship, it seems high to me. But, in fairness, we have to analyse what conditions he will be up against at the Masters to know whether people should back him.

First and foremost, at Augusta, you need to be an extremely good, accurate driver of the ball. As the statistics bear out, Tommy is one of the best in the world – setting him in very good stead for the tournament.

Off the tee as well, you also need to be able to turn the ball from right to left, so it’s the shape of shot that’s crucial. Again, Tommy’s game suits that down to a tee (pardon the pun). He’s a long straight hitter, with a flight that does move right to left.

The real question in terms of odds is how quickly can Tommy adapt to the different grass and the green conditions. Clearly every course is different, but the grass as we all know is particularly unique at Augustus. In particular, the pace of the greens and the quite incredible undulation is what really trips people up.

With the crazy pace and slope to the greens, it’s more crucial than ever to be able to control your iron shots. Year after year, it’s the second or third shot that separates the top golfers. You want to leave yourself a close-enough putt to sink, especially on these surfaces. If your irons aren’t good, you end up with a downhill putt for a birdie, with very little chance of making it. Thankfully, Tommy is again one of the best at hitting greens in regulation.

7) If you had to pick a winner for the Masters apart from Tommy, who would it be?

If you’re a gambling man, you have to go for the odds. Jordan Spieth, as ever, is looking a favourite – so he’d be my top pick.

I have to say, though, at every Masters it’s horses for courses – you have to play the conditions. It’s quite unusual to see someone win the Masters who hasn’t played well at Augusta before. I always point to the example of Bernhard Langer in the 80s and 90s. He was never the longest hitter, but the distance control he managed with his irons was sublime, and that’s what you need at the Masters – not just power but precision.

8) Do you think Tommy will have the Ryder Cup on his mind yet, or just be focusing on starting the year well?

My honest belief is that, at its core, golf is a selfish game. You’re the boss, manager and captain of your own ship. Success at golf is 100% down to the individual.

That’s why, in my opinion, Tommy will be putting his own ambitions and career goals ahead of the Ryder Cup at the moment – leaving it as more of a great cherry on the cake. And of course, with the way he’s been playing – if he focuses on his form, the invite will happen.

9) Do you think Tommy will eventually complete a Grand Slam?

You always need a little bit of luck to win a major, coming into form in just the right week. To manage that four times at four different majors requires an even bigger slice of luck. What I would say about Tommy – as we’ve seen at the US Open and British Open last year, he always gives himself a chance of being in contention. He’s forever there or thereabouts.

10) Finally, if you could give Tommy one piece of advice for next year, what would it be?

Keep doing what you’re doing, be relaxed and your chance will come.

This interview was conducted on behalf of Free Super Tips.