Ryder Cup 'hurt' at Whistling Straits led to Hero Cup, says Tommy Fleetwood
The important gap in terms of Europe being prepared in every sense for the biennial event, as was the case through the Seve Trophy, Royal Trophy and, most recently, and EurAsia Cup, has duly been filled through the introduction of the new Hero Cup.
It takes place in Abu Dhabi in the middle of next month, with Luke Donald, who will lead the Europeans in next September’s Ryder Cup in Rome, having appointed Fleetwood as a playing captain of a Great Britain and Ireland side and Francesco Molinari taking on the same role for a Continental Europe team.
“As Europeans as a whole, I think it’s an important part of the process in terms of how we want to perform at the Ryder Cup and I think we’ve done well to get that,” added Fleetwood, speaking in the Bahamas, where he is playing in this week’s Hero World Challenge.
“I think whatever team you have played in, whether it be the EurAsia Cup, Presidents Cup or whatever, you have different levels of bonds from playing with each other as a team and I’m looking forward to that.”
How had that mood been flying home after 19-9 hammering for Padraig Harrington’s team at Whistling Straits? “We were hungover,” declared a smiling Fleetwood. “Look, we hated losing. It hurts, of course it does. You live and breathe as a team.
“I’ve only been on two Ryder Cup teams and I’ve been on a winning team. But I also know what it’s like to be on a losing team and it’s not nice standing there watching the winning team celebrate.
“We underperformed as a team. Yes, we were playing against an unbelievable team of American golfers – and it’s going to be the same again – but we stood on that green, let it hurt and then you move on.”
Fleetwood and Molinari, of course, earned the nickname ‘Moliwood’ after being a star pairing for Thomas Bjorn in the 2018 Ryder Cup in France and fair play to Donald, if it was indeed him, for coming up with the idea for them to be rival captains at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on 13-15 January.
“When I told my dad that Luke had asked me to be a playing captain for GB&I, he was more proud about that than anything I’ve ever won,” revealed six-time DP World Tour champion Fleetwood, laughing. “That, for me, is a really cool part of it and I always enjoy the team element of golf.
“When Luke asked me, I was quite taken aback as it’s a lovely thing to be asked to do. I’d say I’m not really at an age where I would think about being a captain, to be honest, but it’s nice that Luke sees those qualities in me.”
What will he bring to a team that includes two of his team-mates from Whistling Straits, Shane Lowry and Tyrrell Hatton, as well as Scottish duo Ewen Ferguson and Bob MacIntyre?
“I think I just want to make sure that I am as supportive as possible to people who are playing. I want to put the confidence of the players to the forefront and make sure everybody enjoys it and has the best chance to bring out their abilities on the golf course in a team environment.
“It’s different. The practice rounds are different, playing each day is different and it’s about people being able to play as freely as possible, do our own thing and believe in our own abilities. When that’s the case, you have a better chance and hopefully I can bring that out in the guys.”
By sheer coincidence, Fleetwood got his first glimpse of MacIntyre when they were in the same group in the final round of the 2019 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. In paying the Scot a huge compliment, he said then that MacIntyre was “probably better than I was at 22”.
Having since watched the Oban man win twice on the DP World Tour and notably his Italian Open triumph in October, Fleetwood is looking forward to being his captain back at the same venue.
“Bob is a great young player who is working his way up in his career,” said the likeable Englishman. “He’s got some good experience already. He’s played in America a bit. He’s won a couple of times in Europe now, so he’s gradually creating his own experiences and maturing. He’s had a great start to Ryder Cup qualification and it’s nice to have something that motivates you moving into the new season.
“He definitely seems happy with who he is working with and it’s about trying to stay on the path he’s on and building confidence.”
Ferguson’s confidence is sky high, having earned his Hero Cup chance on the back of winning twice in his rookie season on the DP World Tour. “I haven’t played with Ewen, but he’s had a phenomenal year and he could have won three times as I was watching when he was going for the third one in Denmark,” said Fleetwood of the Bearsden man.
“I like his attitude. I’ve seen him around and he seems very keen to learn all the time. He seems very confident when he’s playing but off the course he’s keen to learn and work hard. He looks like a fierce competitor and he’s got a bunch of good qualities.
“Any time I’ve spoken to him, he seems like a lovely lad and I like spending time around him. I’m looking forward to having them both on the team and spending more time with them.”
Viktor Hovland, who isn’t playing in the Hero Cup but looks a certainty to make his secnd Ryder Cup appearance at Marco Simone in Rome, leads at the halfway stage at the Albany resort in Nassau.
Helped by his second eagle of the week – this one was a hole out at the par-5 sixth – on the Greg Norman-designed course - the defending champion backed up his opening 69 with a 70 in a strong wind to sit on five-under.
The Norwegian holds a one-shot lead over Genesis Scottish Open champion Xander Schauffele, Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, 150th Open runner-up Cameron Young and 2021 Open champion Collin Morikawa.
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