When we last saw Tommy Fleetwood in a major on Long Island, he was shooting a 63 on Sunday to finish second to Brooks Koepka in last year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock.
Now back on the Island for the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, Fleetwood again finds himself in Koepka’s wake, though it’s only the first round. Fleetwood posted a three-under-par 67 to trail Koepka by four shots.
Fleetwood made eight birdies and a lone bogey at Shinnecock Hills to tie players like Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller for the lowest score ever in the national championship. He had three good birdie looks on the final three holes that could have yielded him the all-time low score in an Open.
On Thursday Fleetwood birdied six holes after starting his round with a bogey on the tough 10th. “I would say [the course] is a little more forgiving than the practice days have been, like it felt like there was a few chances today, but overall, still a brutal golf course, and as soon as you're out of position, you're going to struggle,” Fleetwood said. “Luckily enough, I hit plenty of good golf shots.”
That’s something the Englishman has been doing a lot of recently. After his U.S. Open finish last year he had a 12th-place finish at the British Open, and then a pairing with Francesco Molinari (which became known as Mollywood), in the Ryder Cup. The twosome won all four of their team matches in Europe’s crushing defeat of the U.S. side.
Fleetwood comes into the Open as the 16th-ranked player in the world, a spot he’s grown comfortable with as he challenges for his first major against the best on the best courses in the world. While there is little correlation between Shinnecock Hills and Bethpage Black, they both stand as ultimate tests of the game. He grown comfortable with them, too.
“Maybe I fit in,” Fleetwood said. “I think once in a while they have these major setups, and I enjoy the challenge. It doesn't always go right, but I enjoy the toughest courses, and I enjoy getting in a dogfight out there with the toughest courses in the world.”
And now he has a chance to be in another dogfight with Koepka, winner of three major titles, including back-to-back U.S. Opens and last year’s PGA Championship.
"He's a lot bigger than me and he hits it a bit further,” Fleetwood said. “He's got a bigger bank balance. But I think mentality-wise . . . I feel like I get into contention and hopefully it'll be a matter of time.”
No time like the present.