Team Europe star Tommy Fleetwood on family, booming Dubai academy and Ryder Cup heroics

UAE-based golfer, who secured the winning point for Luke Donald's side in Italy earlier this month, tells The National of his pride in helping bring through the next generation of players

Tommy Fleetwood reflects on first year of Dubai golf academy

Tommy Fleetwood reflects on first year of Dubai golf academy
Powered by automated translation

A tranquil October morning at Jumeirah Golf Estates could not feel any further removed from the boisterous Marco Simone Golf and Country Club less than three weeks previously, but Tommy Fleetwood seems just as enraptured here as he did there.

It helps, obviously, that his name is above the door. It’s been almost a year since the European Ryder Cup star launched his Tommy Fleetwood Academy on this very spot and, as a local resident since too, he’s well positioned to plot its progress.

In fact, living on site, Fleetwood drops in regularly. That is, whenever he’s not competing around the world as one of the game’s foremost golfers.

“Of course, my name is on the academy, and I have a leadership role to play in it,” Fleetwood tells The National. “But I actually just enjoy being alongside everybody else that's kind of chasing their dreams. Because I'm trying to get better every day, and I'm still chasing my dream.

“So, that is the coolest part of it. I love it being that way.”

It applies to the Fleetwood family, also. Not far from view, youngest son Franklin (he goes by “Frankie”) is on the range, golf club in hand, displaying the sort of carefree approach to the sport that any six-year-old would.

“It's very special,” Fleetwood says. “I watch how much he enjoys the game. Take today, for instance: he came here at nine o'clock and he's been practicing for three hours now.

“Watching other kids as well, either similar age to him or a bit older, all enjoying it, all spending time together, is great. It’s something that means a lot to me, for sure.

“I look at him and the others, and there's so many similarities with my childhood. And I have a lot to give, in terms of helping them along the way, if they want to.”

The eponymous academy, Fleetwood’s only outside the one in his hometown of Southport, England, was inaugurated last November in partnership with DP World, the title sponsors of Europe’s lead professional circuit.

Fleetwood, a six-time winner on tour and still fresh from securing the decisive point earlier this month that sealed Europe the Ryder Cup, is clearly proud of what’s been accomplished with the project this past 12 months.

“For myself and [wife and manager] Clare, we’ve always had a strong vision for what I see for the Tommy Fleetwood Academy,” he says. “How I see it progressing and how I want to use the game to support people, develop people, develop their skills, and hopefully grow the game in that sense.

“And having the opportunity to be here at Jumeirah Golf Estates [JGE] - the facilities are incredible – with DP World and their vision has aligned really, really well.

“I can't believe it's been a year. Seeing the place progressively grow, it's just really cool. We live here, and I get to see it day by day, which is amazing being around it, and something that you have such pride in. I'm so grateful to everybody that's been involved.”

Everybody would dream of having to hole a winning putt for the Ryder Cup, or hitting a shot, and I've definitely pictured it thousands of times when practising.
Tommy Fleetwood

Fleetwood, currently ranked No 15 in the world, can often be found at the academy, chewing the fat with its coaching team, giving advice to aspiring golfers, or even partaking in a chipping contest or two.

“I just like that everybody is part of the community that is trying to grow together and support each other,” he says.

The academy caters for all caibre of golfers, be it beginners, juniors, amateurs or professionals. A significant number of DP World Tour golfers practice there. Inclusion is a key touchstone.

“That’s the exact type of environment we want to create,” Fleetwood says. “Because whether that's today, tomorrow or the next day, everybody's journey is just starting at the same time - it's just you're at different levels.

“But, no matter where you're at, the only job is to try and get better every day. I love seeing people try the game and I get a lot of satisfaction from watching somebody try it, and a week later being hooked. And you know that they’re hooked for the rest of their life.”

Not that he needs it – Fleetwood, 32, is known for his amiable character – but the academy helps one of the world’s lead golfers stay grounded.

“I've been aware for a long time, [that] I try and learn as much as possible,” he says. “So that I can then carry that forward and pass it on and use it to help myself and help others.

“I've always been big on taking in those experiences, writing things down, picking people's brains. And there's a lot of skills involved in that. I've always been very good at asking questions, but that's not a skill that everybody else has.

“That would be just one of the things we try and improve at the academy, and help people develop as many skills as possible that will help them progress, not just in golf, but there's people that dream of other things as well. We're using the game to help people progress.”

Fleetwood’s progression through elite golf has carried him here, to nine professional wins and two successful Ryder Cup campaigns. The most recent, earlier this month near Rome, was extra special: playing in Sunday's penultimate pairing, Fleetwood secured the pivotal point as Europe reclaimed the trophy from the United States, eventually prevailing 16.5 to 11.5.

Most would bask in landing the decisive blow, but Fleetwood has yet to watch back the event, bar the clips doing the rounds on social media.

That moment late on Sunday, though, in the heat of battle and front and centre on the fan-packed, driveable par-4 16th, deserves repeated viewing.

Fleetwood sent a fabulous tee shot onto the green and subsequently won the hole to go dormie two against Rickie Fowler, ensuring the half point that clinched the trophy.

“Everybody dreams of having to hole a winning putt for the Ryder Cup, or hitting a shot," Fleetwood says. "I've definitely pictured it 1,000s of times when I've been practising.

“But actually stood there with the opportunity, one of the things I was most pleased with was, I stood on that tee and I was looking at the green, and the awareness of knowing that I was one good shot away, and what an amazing chance this is to do something memorable that I’ll remember for the rest of my career.

“That was very much at the front of my mind. The shot was great. But being in that moment and how present I was, I'm very proud of that.

“I'm just so happy it came off the middle of the face and it was going straight. That was the main priority. And, after that, I was relieved, and we were good - we were done then.”

No doubt, it made up for 2021, when Fleetwood was part of a losing Ryder Cup side – the first time he experienced both contesting the trophy on US soil, and ultimately, defeat in the competition.

It was chastening, too, with Steve Stricker’s side recording a record 19-9 victory.

Yet the loss, and the manner of it, spurred the Rome rebound.

“You go back to two years ago, it's still so clear in my mind, and I know for the ones that were there, I know we're all the same,” Fleetwood says. “We stood on the 18th green, and you watch the other team celebrating, we've taken a big loss - we got beat pretty badly. We didn't do ourselves justice in terms of our performance.

“A lot of us were upset with that. At that point, you just wanted the opportunity again, you wanted to play straight away, and you know there's two years to wait. But then you want to make sure that you make this team, you want to be a part of trying to get that Ryder Cup back.

“The team aspect of it, it's just as enjoyable. It’s so amazing spending time with those guys and the family that you become, win, lose or draw.

“Winning as a team is much better than losing. But I guess we can all look back, and you never want to get beat, but having something to motivate you as strong as that for us all, was key. But I'd much rather be on the winning side.”

Fleetwood, who claimed three points from a possible four at Marco Simone, has had that pleasure twice. In 2018, upon his Ryder Cup debut and when he reigned as European No 1, the Englishman won all four matches alongside Francesco Molinari in France before losing his singles to Tony Finau.

It mattered little: Europe triumphed 17.5-10.5.

“The Ryder Cup is always the most incredible experience,” Fleetwood says. “Being in the European team room is the best place in golf, and I've loved every experience I've ever had with them. And [this year’s] singles, I suppose I didn't expect to play the role I had in the end.

“I was hoping I wouldn't have to, but then an amazing opportunity and memories for life being able to do that. Just so happy we all got that winning feeling; it seems so special.”

However, for Europe heading into 2023, read US 2025. Unquestionably shaken by their Italian experience, the Americans will be driven by a similar intent to make amends in two years' time, when the event relocates to what should represent a raucous Bethpage Black.

“Absolutely,” Fleetwood says. “But for us, you will find different motivating factors. When the qualification process starts, everybody will want to make that team and go to an away Ryder Cup, especially one that's in New York... enter that cauldron and try and do something very special, which is winning an away Ryder Cup, which is proving very, very difficult at the moment.

“But all of us on this team will want the opportunity again to go and see if we can do something very special and seldom done these days. I would love to make that team and be alongside my teammates again.”

Luke Donald, this month’s victorious captain, has been tipped to lead the team once more in 2025. On Sunday in Italy, once the cup was confirmed, Europe’s players publicly championed their skipper’s candidature for a repeat.

“We’ll see how that goes,” Fleetwood says. “If Luke was to be asked, it's obviously up to Luke and [wife] Diane if they choose they want to do it again.

“But I know anybody on that team would love playing under Luke, because he was such a fantastic captain. We're all very proud to play for him and very proud of the job he did for us.”

Ryder Cup glow not yet dimmed, Fleetwood still has his own job to do in this season’s twilight.

He has two tournaments remaining, returning next month to the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa as defending champion – he is a two-time winner of the event - and then the 2023 Race to Dubai finale: the DP World Tour Championship (DPWTC), at a JGE he now calls home, from November 16-19.

Ten of the 12 players on Team Europe will tee it up at the Earth Course.

Evidently, Fleetwood, who has a runner-up and two third-placed finishes among nine top-10s this year (including the calendar’s latter two majors), has plenty left to play for.

“Definitely,” he says. “I've had a very good year individually. And there's still goals I set that I've fallen short of. But I do believe you have to stretch yourself; I don't mind falling short of high targets.

“There's still two events for me, and there are still goals out there I can achieve. I'm very excited about the events left to play for. There's not much time, but there's still enough for me to achieve some things this year.”

Getting over the line at next month’s DPWTC would surely sate the appetite. Fleetwood was tied 5th there last year; in his best performance, second in 2019, he was denied a play-off by Jon Rahm's birdie on the final hole.

“Yeah, John did me in there,” Fleetwood smiles. “But, obviously living here, my knowledge for the course and history of the course, I have a lot now.

“I've got my picture in the clubhouse with the [2017] Race to Dubai trophy, but I would love that DP World Tour Championship trophy. I'd love to win that and have the support of everybody here. I'll just keep playing and pushing, and we'll see if we can do it.”

Then, with season done, sit back and relive, finally, those memorable moments from Marco Simone.

“I do have to watch it back,” Fleetwood says. “I'm sure there'll be a lot of Christmas viewing. When I get a bit of time and I decide to watch it and take it all in, I'll definitely sit back and enjoy it.

“Because I could play [the 16th on Sunday] all back in my head to be honest. But I'd like to see how everything else panned out as well.”

You wouldn’t, though, begrudge Fleetwood watching that trophy-sealing tee shot on loop.

“Perhaps I could do that one,” he laughs. “Yeah, that was a good one.”

Ryder Cup player ratings

Updated: October 27, 2023, 5:15 PM