SOUTHPORT, England (AP) â He is the poster boy of the upcoming British Open, his flowing hair and stubbly face adorning the banners draped across lamp-posts on the approaches to Royal Birkdale.
Tommy Fleetwood has the looks of a rock star and the popularity of one in this seaside town in northwest England, especially this week.
Golf’s oldest major is back in Southport for the first time since 2008 and, in Fleetwood, one of the sport’s rising stars, the locals have one of their own to cheer for.
“I’ll have the most support I’ve ever had in my life, from people I’ve grown up with, friends, family, you name it,” Fleetwood said on Monday. “It’s going to be a different experience, for sure.”
Growing up, Fleetwood lived in a house just round the corner from Royal Birkdale. The place always held a mystical quality to a golf-loving kid who dreamed of winning the Open Championship from the age of 5.
He’d play at the local municipals â Southport, Formby Hall, and Southport & Ainsdale, where he’d sweep the paths â and would get on Birkdale only when accompanying his father, Peter, on evening dog walks.
“I might have bunked on the odd time and hit the odd shot,” Fleetwood recalled. “But that was about as far as it goes.”
The first British Open he went to watch was at Royal Birkdale in 1998. He remembers defending champion Justin Leonard being on the front cover of the program, being in awe of a 22-year-old Tiger Woods walking past him, and faking golfers’ signatures in his autograph book because he failed to get any himself.
Nineteen years on, it’s his signature in demand.
Fleetwood is at his highest-ever world ranking of No….