Whether golf has mislaid its moral compass is a source of rising debate. The PGA Tour’s effort to return in mid-June – assisted in no small part by the US president – has onlookers pondering if this is all too much, too soon.
Tommy Fleetwood can still be counted among those leading players who retain their perspective. He freely admits golf should have a place while being thankful he does not have to decide precisely where that may be.
“Sport is great for society and as a motivational thing for people,” he says. “Life can be boring without sport on TV, but the reality has always been real-life heroes are the ones who save lives. That has really been shown up over the past few weeks. Certain sporting occasions can be important as light at the end of the tunnel but the safety of people should and will come first.”
If the PGA Tour does restart as planned, with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, Fleetwood will have plenty to weigh up. Travel restrictions from and back to his base in the north-west of England for one. So, too, where golf sits in the Covid-19 mass-testing chain.
“Morally, if they are planning on getting all these tests, I don’t know if I want a test before a frontline worker,” he says. “They seem confident [about playing] and it’s good to be optimistic. There are no right or wrong answers in this and the effort they’ve put in, the planning they are doing to get the Tour up and running, means as players we should be amazingly grateful.”
Any necessary adjustment to golf’s lofty financial reward system would represent no problem for the world No 10. “I’ll be made up just to be playing golf again,” Fleetwood says. “Questions have been asked about prize funds and [the layout of] players’ lounges, but if we can play golf as a living, that’s absolutely amazing. We are unbelievably lucky to play for the amounts we play for in a job we love. The world is taking a pay cut, if we do then it’s absolutely fine.”
Fleetwood cannot be counted among those immensely frustrated by lockdown. The 29-year-old has revelled in being with his family, away from the rush of the tour. Initially he was reticent to admit as much. “I was conscious not to sound too positive about it all, but after a while I thought it was hard enough for everyone and there shouldn’t be a problem stating that you’re happy. The time we are getting together is amazing.
“I’ve done some really nice work. My body feels good, I’m rested, I’ve been doing work with my psychologist and speaking to my coaches. I’ve had time to read and think.”
The hiatus has brought fresh fame to another member of his team. Ian Finnis, Fleetwood’s caddie, achieved social-media stardom after raising £135,000 for fellow bagmen who may be adversely affected by the pandemic. Finnis organised a raffle of golf memorabilia, with Fleetwood one of many high-profile donors.
“I think he was more surprised than anyone at how well it went,” Fleetwood says. “He is the type of person to give someone the last fiver in his pocket if they needed it. What he did was amazing and I know how much effort he put in. He just pushed and pushed after setting his mind to it. I’m proud of him.”
Fleetwood’s calm was disturbed once in the past fortnight. Nobody who observed the distraught Englishman after the final round of last year’s Open will readily forget the sight. He had refused all offers to look back on his round played in the company of Shane Lowry, to whom he was runner-up at Royal Portrush, until now.
“There have been a lot of reruns since and I never wanted to watch it. I’d tell people to turn it off or say I wasn’t watching. It hurt a lot, it hurt to the pit of my stomach watching it. I could remember the feelings and watching it was almost worse because I couldn’t even keep my mind on playing. But I saw Shane talking to his team, waiting to go to the presentation, and he said: ‘That’s the best feeling ever,’ to someone. I wrote that down from watching it; I thought: ‘I want that.’ Wouldn’t anyone want that?”
Fleetwood articulates his level of despair – finishing second in the Open is hardly disastrous – perfectly. “When I was seven, I wanted to win the Open. I left the course that Saturday night, driving back with my family … the dream you’ve had for 20-odd years is very close. It went when I double-bogeyed 15 on Sunday, it was still there until then.
“That might be the closest I ever get, but I can say: ‘You know what, I had a dream when I was a kid and I played in the Sunday of an Open in the last group with a chance of achieving it.’ But I’m not living my life to finish second. I don’t live in a bubble where I weep about being second in the Open but second isn’t what I’m striving for. I don’t think I’ve reached my potential yet.”
If Portrush stung, Fleetwood left the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris as one of the players of the moment. It remains highly doubtful this year’s version, scheduled for Whistling Straits, will take place. He has added his voice to the chorus against a joust between Europe and the USA taking place without spectators.
“If you played one Ryder Cup and didn’t have any fan interaction at all, I think that would be kind of sad,” Fleetwood says. “If you think of getting to the FA Cup final, you scored the winning goal and there was nobody to celebrate in front of? Your life’s dream would turn out very different. That’s a selfish, player’s point of view but it 100% wouldn’t be the same without fans.”
Golf as a whole will undergo inevitable change. In the midst of that, Fleetwood will see a broader picture.