New challenges await reigning Abu Dhabi golf champion Tommy Fleetwood having become a leading golfer and young father
Tommy Fleetwood is well used to collecting trophies at the end of tournaments in the UAE.
So formidable has the Englishman become in this part of the world, the powers-that-be have now taken to handing over silverware to him before events even start.
Fleetwood was presented the Seve Ballesteros Award, granted to the player voted the best of the previous season by their European Tour colleagues, on Tuesday morning in The Westin Hotel at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
It meant that however the defence of his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA, pans out this weekend, he is guaranteed to be heading back home with some shiny stash in his luggage.
“It's actually made me the most emotional out of all of them,” Fleetwood said, after being presented with the silver salver by Keith Pelley, the Tour’s chief executive, and David Howell, the tournament committee chairman.
“It's different to anything I've achieved before. It's very flattering, and very humbling.”
The prize was testament to the breakout season the 26-year-old world No 18 enjoyed in 2017.
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It all started with his win around the National Course in the capital. That set him on the path to winning the Race to Dubai, which he ultimately celebrated following a tense wait after the final round at Jumeirah Golf Estates in November.
“It did come out of nowhere,” Fleetwood said of his win in Abu Dhabi 12 months ago.
“I hadn't done much over the winter, and it was a course where I had not had much success on, but found myself up there on the last day.
“It took us all a little bit by surprise. It was a massive accumulation of so much hard work, and coming back and getting my game back together.
“[I have] so many sort of great memories from that week, and it clearly started a great run for me throughout the year.”
Last year, Fleetwood finished one shot ahead of a stellar pack led by Dustin Johnson, the world No 1 who is back amongst an all-star cast to challenge for the title again.
The National Course - hole by hole
Fleetwood and Johnson will be joined by McIlroy in the prestige opening round three-ball. They tee-off at 7.40am on Thursday.
Fleetwood says his 2017 exploits means he has no need to feel apprehensive in such celebrated company.
“I owe a lot to the tournament and the way I played,” Fleetwood said. “With Dustin Johnson was coming down the stretch as well last year, it gave me a lot of confidence to move on in the year, and then for whatever else I achieved.”
Fleetwood’s life has changed markedly in the time since he arrived in the capital ranked No 100 in the world last January.
Now he has to balance being one of the world’s leading golfers with parenthood, after the birth of son Franklin in October.
Henrik Stenson, who Fleetwood displaced as the Race to Dubai champion, said managing his time will be his successor’s greatest challenge following his recent successes.
“Become better at saying no, because that's hard,” said Stenson, who starts his latest bid for a first Abu Dhabi title at 7.30am on Thursday, in a group with Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar.
“You have a great year and a bright future ahead of you, everyone wants five minutes, and it's only 24 hours in a day. Every little bit you do is going to take away a little bit of energy, and a little bit of focus from what you need and should do. That's a tough balance that.”
Fleetwood said he knows where his priorities lie. “I have a baby now and a wife and a family at home, so time management becomes so much more important,” he said.
“So it's not like I'm going to spend 12 hours a day working on my game and improving it that way. You have to work smarter and then figure out the ways to do it that way.”