Tommy Fleetwood feels at home on Union Jack sofa at British Masters

Tommy Fleetwood is hosting the Betfred British Masters at Hillside this week. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesTommy Fleetwood is hosting the Betfred British Masters at Hillside this week. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Tommy Fleetwood is hosting the Betfred British Masters at Hillside this week. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
They’ve gone out their way to make Tommy Fleetwood, the tournament host, feel at home at this week’s Betfred British Masters. His pre-event press conference was even conducted from a Union Jack couch in the media centre at Hillside in his hometown of Southport. “So far, so good,” said the world No 16 of that welcome touch and everything else that has been put in place to help make this a week to remember.

He is following in the footsteps of Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose in taking on the role of host for a tournament that was resurrected in 2015. It had been feared that it was set to be lost again when Sky Sports withdrew their sponsorship following last year’s staging at Walton Heath won by Eddie Pepperell. But Betfred stepped in as the new title sponsor and Fleetwood feels honoured to be the face of this week’s tournament at just 28.

“I’m very proud and am happy how it has turned out,” he said. “I’ve done the least amount of anyone involved, but the last two days I have definitely felt more nervous than normal – and I don’t really know why. But it’s a great idea having players as hosts of this event and I’m enjoying it.”

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Fleetwood is one of just four players from the world’s top 50 in the field, the others being Matt Wallace, Tyrrell Hatton and the aforementioned Pepperell. That is partly due to it coming immediately before the season’s second major, the US PGA Championship, which takes place next week at Bethpage Black in its new early-season slot.

“There’s no need to apologise at all,” insisted Fleetwood in reply to being asked if the likes of Rose, Poulter and Paul Casey had felt the need to explain their absence on English soil. “When you are a host, you get the option if you want to be a part of trying to bring players along and get them to play, and I never wanted anything to do with that.

“I would never want any player or friends or peer to think that, you know, I wanted them to do something for me. I understand people’s schedules. I understand the time of the year. There’s absolutely no hard feelings by anyone, and there never would be. No, if they did apologise, I would tell them, don’t be stupid and shut up.”

This isn’t the first time that Fleetwood has been in the spotlight as a professional in Southport. Having just started to take his game to a new level, he was regarded as a possible title contender in the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, which sits right next door to Hillside. His hopes of winning were undone by an opening 79 but, after bouncing back with rounds of 69-66-70, he ended up a respectable joint-27th. On and off the course, that experience should be helpful for this week.

“That was the biggest crowds I’ve seen and walking to the first tee on the Thursday, well, not everybody gets that feeling, your hometown and playing in front of a home crowd,” he recalled. “I loved it and I did learn things from that. I wanted to do well so badly and I didn’t really. The first day was very disappointing, but I bounced back from it and I remember on the Saturday morning, I played with Justin Rose at 9.30 and the gates opened at 9.00, so we had everybody on the golf course following us.

“It’s a different atmosphere when you play when you have so many people that are behind you, and you want to do well for them; it’s not just about you then. You want to put on a great performance for your town and the people that come to watch you. It’s different pressures, but again I’ve learnt from it and I’ve grown since then.

“That was my first season where I was starting to contend in majors. There’s so many different things that have happened since then that I’m way more used to. I’m very excited about teeing it up on Thursday this week.

“I go around the world and I get good support, but there’s nothing quite like home. I’m looking forward to it this week. I want to put on a good performance, but, whether I do well or not, I know that everybody here are going to make this event one of the best of the year, I’m sure of it.”

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Wallace, who has his sights set on joining the list of hosts and suggested a return to The Belfry, to which he is attached, could be a possibility, is hoping a win on home soil this weekend can be the launchpad to him breaking into the world’s top 10.

“Hopefully in a couple years’ time, I’ll be winning some majors and I’ve now got a new team, literally in the last couple weeks,” said the 28-year-old. who already has four European Tour triumphs under his belt. “I’ve managed to get [fitness guru] Steve MacGregor, who helped Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood get to world No 1 on board.

“He’s already helped me elevate where I’ve got to and where I want to go to, and we’ve got a system and we’ve got a plan now. I’ve always planned I want to be a top 10 player in the world. My aim is to try and get there, somehow, some way, and I’m going to give it my all for these next few years.”