Tommy Fleetwood is relishing a change in expectations in next month’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, a course he used to sneak on to as a kid.
Playing in just the eighth major championship of his career, Fleetwood finished fourth in the US Open at Erin Hills, five shots behind final-round playing partner Brooks Koepka.
The result lifted Fleetwood to a career-high 21st in the world rankings – he was 188th as recently as September 2016 – and sets him up perfectly for a busy summer before his first child is born in October.
Unsurprisingly, the Open on home soil is top of the agenda for the 26-year-old from Southport, although he does not have as much local knowledge as might be expected.
“I don’t think I’ve got that much of an edge because I’ve not played the golf course enough,” said Everton fan Fleetwood, who got his hands on the Claret Jug at Goodison Park in April at a promotional event. “It was the one course that we never got to play in the area.
“It was the forbidden fruit when I was younger. Me and my dad used to sneak on and hit a few shots and then get off before anybody saw us. But nobody knows about that!
I’m sure there will be higher expectations now but that’s nice – it’s better than people expecting me to miss the cut.Tommy Fleetwood
“I’m sure there will be higher expectations now but that’s nice – it’s better than people expecting me to miss the cut.
“We’ll deal with that when we get there but it’s going to be a nice experience. You never know, it might be overwhelming or it might be great, but at the end of the day I’m going to have a lot of support which is going to be fantastic.
“It’s going to be brilliant to play in front of a home crowd. Not many people get the chance to play a major or even a tournament where they’ve grown up so it’s special for me.”
While Fleetwood jetted to Munich for the BMW International Open, the new US Open champion was coming to terms with his accomplishment.
Koepka carded a closing 67 at a windswept Erin Hills to finish 16 under par, matching the tournament scoring record set by Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011.
The 27-year-old began the day a shot off the lead but fired six birdies and a solitary bogey to finish four strokes ahead of overnight leader Brian Harman and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, with Fleetwood a shot further back in fourth.
Koepka has been tipped for the top since winning three tournaments on the Challenge Tour in 2013 to earn instant promotion to the European Tour, but the third win was in serious danger of never happening.
“I called (agent) Blake Smith the night of the third round (of the Scottish Hydro Challenge in Aviemore),” said Koepka after collecting a record first prize of $2.16million (£1.6million) at Erin Hills.
“I called him and I was like, I don’t even want to play. I just want to go home. I was kind of, I don’t want to say homesick, it was just tired of golf. Tired of travelling.
“I just wanted to be home. I’ve never felt that way. I don’t even know what was going on. I think I had played so many weeks in a row, not a day off, it really got to me.”
Prior to his masterclass at Erin Hills, Koepka had won only twice on the top circuits. In 2015 he won his maiden PGA Tour title in Phoenix and in 2016 claimed the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan, but admitted he felt like an underachiever.
“I just felt like I should be winning more,” said Koepka, who climbs from 22nd in the rankings to 10th. “I’m not a big fan of losing, I don’t think anyone out here is. And I just couldn’t stand the fact that I’d only won once.”