Tommy Fleetwood Overcame the ‘Yips.’ Now, He wants a European Tour PGA Championship Title
Tommy Fleetwood has come a long way since the European Tour PGA Championship in 2015 when he couldn’t hit off the first tee, an experience he said was the lowest point of his career.
During practice rounds at the West Course at Wentworth Club in Surrey, England, about 30 miles southwest of London, the Englishman took 12 shots off the first tee and sprayed golf balls everywhere but the fairway.
He told his friends he couldn’t play — that he couldn’t even get off the first tee or even hit the ball. He gave up, put his driver away and just walked the rest of the hole at Wentworth, the site of this year’s championship, which begins Thursday.
“It was demoralizing,” said Fleetwood, 27, now ranked 10th in the world. “Aside from being the biggest event of the year for me, it was more the fact that you can’t do what you want to do. My confidence was so low. It was pretty difficult. My coach Alan Thompson didn’t say it at the time, but he questioned if I could ever come out of it, that maybe I was too far gone.
“The experience gave me the appreciation of what it takes and how hard the game can be,” he said. “It’s something I don’t ever want to let myself get into again. It’s good to look back and know where you come from.”
While Fleetwood made a temporary recovery and charged up the leader board to finish tied for sixth, that experience was the beginning of a bad stretch in his young career.
“It doesn’t matter how good you think, or how many balls you hit on the range, or how well you hit on the range. It’s something that you can’t control — you’re body is doing it. And going at 120 m.p.h., that ball’s going to go a long way off by a mile. I just couldn’t keep the ball on the golf course.”
Since Fleetwood was 13, he had worked on and off with Thompson, who knew Fleetwood’s swing better than anybody. Thompson spotted the problem, and the two went back to basics and shored up Fleetwood’s technical game until he gradually regained his swing.
But his confidence took a while. He played more practice rounds. Instead of nine practice holes a day, he played 36. “I just had to get on the golf course and play holes whether it was practice or tournaments,” Fleetwood said. “Just keep playing. There’s nothing else you can do. As much as it pains you to do, you just have to do it. You have to play your way out of it.”
He also looked to Ian Finnis, a friend and club pro at England’s Formby Hall Golf Club, to caddie. “Finno is there with me and he takes the pressure off. We’re in it together and we were going to try and get through it together. He has a massive loyalty to me, and I have a massive loyalty to him. From that point we just had to get better at golf, and we did.”
This year, Fleetwood returns to the championship a different man, beaming with confidence and in full possession of his drive. He also returns after the best year of his career, having won last year’s Race to Dubai — a competition that spanned 47 tournaments in 30 countries across four continents — and the right to be crowned Europe’s No. 1 golfer.
This year will be the busiest of his career, Fleetwood said. He is managing his full schedule of PGA tournaments and the European Tour with a new wife and a baby boy. “The season can be long,” he said. “Every shot counts. You never get to switch off. You can’t afford to miss one shot because it can make a difference at the end of the year. You are under a lot of pressure for a lot of the year. It does get tiring.”
To help manage the stress, Fleetwood has decided to start meditating again. He does it for 15 minutes in the evening. “I like to end the day with it,” he said. “It’s nice to have a few moments at night to help me switch off.”