Golf Expert & Columnist
Major stories, part two: Fleetwood lights up the US Open
Last Updated: 20/12/17 5:39pm
In part two of our major championship review of the year, David Livingstone looks back on the emergence of Tommy Fleetwood at the US Open and compares him to a comic book hero ...
To me, the 2017 US Open marked the worldwide emergence of Tommy Fleetwood. He played alongside eventual champion Brooks Koepka in the penultimate group on Sunday and, although Tommy didn't have the final round he wanted, I have no doubt he'll have many more chances.
Tommy has been one of my favourite players in the world over the last few years. When we first saw him on the European Tour, he had no sponsors, had long, unkempt hair, and everything about him was a little unfamiliar in terms of what many perceive to be the stereotypical golfer.
He won his first tournament at Gleneagles in 2013, when his mum followed him around the course while walking the family dog. Tommy was raw, and seemed to be so different from almost everyone else on Tour. It was a stark contrast to the smart, PGA Tour rookies fresh from college.
Tommy Fleetwood reminded me of my favourite comic book hero of all time from the old Victor back in the 50s and 60s, a "tough-as-nails" athlete called Alf Tupper. He was a working-class hero to many, living with his Aunt Meg, with his bed being a mattress on the kitchen floor.
He worked all kinds of hours as a welder, and he would often miss his train and be late to athletics meetings. And he would often find himself rescuing various people from various predicaments on the way too.
He'd have his fish supper, eaten straight from the newspaper, and the guys he would compete against were generally backed by the English athletics authorities - big, blond, lantern-jawed guys with university qualifications who had everything they needed in life.
And here was Alf Tupper, who'd finish his supper, put on his old running shoes and he'd always find a way to win his race. And as he broke the tape on the winning line, he'd shout: "I ran 'em, I ran 'em all!"
Of course it was exaggerated for obvious reasons, but it was my favourite thing as a kid and when I first saw Tommy Fleetwood on the fairways, he became my Alf Tupper. Tommy is hardly a poor, deprived kid, but to me he comes across as a working class hero in a field of more-privileged competitors.
I made this comparison on air and described him as a "rough diamond", but when Tommy came into the studio not long afterwards, I felt obliged to apologise to him for my comments. I said I was very sorry for calling him a "rough diamond", when I meant to describe him as an "unpolished diamond"!
He just smiled and said: "Livo, if you're calling me a diamond, that's good enough for me!"
Tommy has just had, by far, the best year of his career. He's one of the best players in the world, he's made a life-changing amount of money, and the sponsors are now queuing up to sign him. He's still got the same hair though, and he always comes across as being levelled-headed and absolutely grounded - a kind of classic underdog if you like.
I was willing Tommy to emulate Alf Tupper and "run 'em all" at the US Open and I really thought it would happen. Of course, it was to be Koepka's moment in the limelight, but the way Tommy handled it and the way he conducted himself on the big stage was fantastic.
He gave forthright, honest interviews after every round, he knew he was on the verge of something truly special but didn't allow himself to become mesmerised or overwhelmed by the situation. He didn't get carried away at any point and there is something really endearing about him.
What Tommy achieved over the course of 2017 proved that he will surely contend for many more majors in his career but, for now, every time I reflect on the US Open at Erin Hills, I will think of Tommy Fleetwood.
Having said that, I also have to give credit where it's due and congratulate Brooks Koepka on a superb win. For someone with such huge talent and all the makings of a potential golfing superstar, I'd always viewed him as a little flaky at times. He would often get into contention and then find a way to wreck his card on one or two holes.
I had put him in the "mercurial" category of players, perhaps destined to never match his talent with the appropriate achievements. But the way he pulled away from the pack down the stretch in his home major was very impressive, and I was very happy for him and his coach Claude Harmon.
Claude told me they were aware of Koepka's inconsistency and that was something they had worked hard on, and that hard work paid off in a big way in Wisconsin.