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  • As Tommy Fleetwood moves into the top ten world golf rankings, his first coach speaks of reasons behind his success

    Henry James

    SOUTHPORT golfer Tommy Fleetwood moved up to number 10 in the world rankings ahead of Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, following his joint 14th finish at the World Golf Championship event in Mexico last week.

    And with The Masters tournament coming up in (April 5-8), the Champion spoke to Fleetwood’s first ever golf coach, Norman Marshall, who he still stays in touch with.

    I believe you met Tommy Fleetwood at the age of six. Was it always obvious from a young age that he would be a star?

    When I first saw Tommy’s game, he was the best junior golfer I’d ever seen. That said, I was quite a young golf coach back then. Looking back now, with the benefit of years of experience – it only becomes more apparent what a golfing genius he truly was! A truly world-class talent, even then.

    What’s more, it’s not just talent at that age that makes a difference, it’s carrying it on. I’ve probably seen five or six equally talented golfers at that age since, but so far, none of them have persevered to the same level.

    What was his biggest strength as a young player?

    His power relative to his bodyweight was extraordinary, but the part of his game that impressed me most (and still does) is his desire to put the practice in when he got the chance. Hours upon hours out on the course, it’s the only way.

    He loved golf, but you really need is a supportive parent, someone to drive you around. With Tommy, it was the commitment of his dad that impressed me, his willingness to help and give his son every opportunity to follow his passion.

    Is Tommy still a Southport boy at heart?

    He is very much still a Southport lad, yes. We see him in Southport a lot. In fact, for a world-class golfer, he probably plays more golf than anyone with everyday golfers – his dad and his mates. He’s got a Southport heart too.

    In fact, back in December – we held a local junior golf tournament where unfortunately one of the boy’s parents, came from Southport, his dad had died suddenly of sepsis. The organiser wanted to put on a fundraiser at Formby Hall – where I’m the head golf pro, and asked me, “Is there any chance you can get Tommy involved?”

    Now, bear in mind, when he asked me – Tommy was right in the middle of the Race to Dubai, trying to become the best golfer in Europe, so it wasn’t an ideal time. However, I managed to get a message through to Tommy’s dad asking him about the fundraiser. To my surprise, his immediate response was “yes, we’d love to come.”

    He had to move a few things around last minute to make the time to come, which is practically unheard of. It was extremely touching.

    December 27 dawned, and sure enough, Tommy turned up at Formby Hall and basically spent the whole day there, presented the trophies and signed autographs for all the junior players. He’s a kind, genuine man.

    Even having finished last year as the European No.1 thanks to the Order of Merit, several bookmakers have his odds of winning the Masters as high as 80/1. Is that accurate?

    having finished the year as the top player in Europe, and winning the Abu Dhabi Championship, it seems high. But we have to analyse what conditions he will be up against at the Masters to know whether people should back him.

    First, at Augusta, you need to be an extremely good, accurate driver of the ball. Tommy is one of the best in the world – setting him in very good stead.

    Off the tee as well, you also need to be able to turn the ball from right to left, so it’s the shape of shot that’s crucial. Again, Tommy’s game suits that. He’s a long straight hitter, with a flight that does move right to left.

    The real question is how quickly can Tommy adapt to the different grass and the green conditions. Every course is different, but the grass is particularly unique at Augustus. The pace of the greens and the quite incredible undulation is what really trips people up.

    With the crazy pace and slope to the greens, it’s crucial to be able to control your iron shots. Year after year, it’s the second or third shot that separates the top golfers. You want to leave yourself a close-enough putt to sink, especially on these surfaces. If your irons aren’t good, you end up with a downhill putt for a birdie, with very little chance of making it. Thankfully, Tommy is again one of the best at hitting greens in regulation.

    Finally, if you could give Tommy one piece of advice for next year, what would it be?

    Keep doing what you’re doing, be relaxed and your chance will come.

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