Having touched on the subject of golfers you make a connection with as they come up through the ranks in this column a week ago, how appropriate that this week’s Betfred British Masters at Hillside is being hosted by Tommy Fleetwood.
The Englishman was still in the amateur ranks when he became something of a favourite with me and fellow members of the Scottish golfing press, as he came across as a cracking bloke when he won the Scottish Open Stroke Play Championship at Murcar Links in 2009.
We came away from that week calling him “wee Tommy” and also aware of the fact that, at that stage in his career, he had a No 1 fan – the family dog, Maisy.
In fact, I still remember the huge smile lighting up Fleetwood’s face as he found out we’d remembered that as he triumphed again in Scotland, this time as a professional, when he landed the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles after a marathon play-off.
“She has supported me through all my tournaments – amateur, county, England,” he said of Maisy in his winner’s press conference that week. “Scotland are nice about it. They let the dogs walk the course, most of the time. Any time we can get a tournament in Scotland, Maisy always comes. She has a great time.”
Sadly, Maisy had just been diagnosed with cancer at the time and is no longer with us, but Fleetwood now has two new dogs, Cookie and Benji, with wife Clare and their young son, Frankie, so the memories of Maisy certainly live on.
Fleetwood, of course, has taken his game to another level since that breakthrough success in Perthshire, having become one of the most recognisable golfers on the planet, which, admittedly, is partly down to being unusual in the sport by having long hair but also for his golfing prowess.
He has not changed in the slightest as a human being, though, and it really is fantastic that he has now earned this opportunity to host a European Tour event in his home town of Southport as he follows Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose in hosting the British Masters since it was resurrected in 2015.
While the European Tour has evolved into a circuit that visits far-flung places, you can’t beat an event in Britain – Ireland, too, of course – and we are certainly in for a treat at Hillside, which sits right next door to Royal Birkdale.
I’m going to make myself feel old by recounting this tale, but the last time I covered an event at Hillside was 30 years ago. It was the PGA Assistants’ Championship, which, on that occasion, produced a tartan triumph as Colin Brooks beat Englishman Paul Eales in a ding-dong battle.
It really is a fantastic golf course and, though a slot immediately before the second major of the season, next week’s US PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, is not ideal in terms of allowing players to support Fleetwood as they would have liked, you can bet your bottom dollar that the crowds will be out in force because the host is a real home-town hero.
Unlucky dip proves costly
We really shouldn’t laugh at other people’s misfortune on a golf course – and I’m certainly not in a position to be doing that when I’m finding uncharted territory with some wayward blows – but I can’t stop chuckling about what happened recently to one of my mates.
He was playing in an outing at Strathmore in Perthshire, where his group, incidentally, enjoyed a brilliant day, when he parked his electric trolley close to a green and walked towards the putting surface. In taking his putter out of the bag, though, he’d accidentally brushed the power button on the trolley.
It was his two playing partners who spotted that the trolley was on the move and yelled out, but, before my mate could do anything about it, the trolley had plunged into a pond.
He had to strip down to his boxer shorts before wading in to try to rescue it, which wasn’t easy apparently due to the weight of the bag and also with the wheels still spinning and churning up all sorts of gunge. By the time he’d got it out, the electric trolley was goosed along with his rangefinder and mobile phone, making it a costly episode. As you might imagine, he has received endless ribbing, but has taken it on the chin.
“I take it you had to walk in afterwards,” I asked him. “Hell, no,” he replied. “I just dried off the clubs as I was taking them out of the bag and finished the round as I was enjoying my day!”