Tommy Fleetwood eyes hat-trick of Abu Dhabi titles - but process trumps outcome
Englishman admittedly disappointed his defence of Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA in 2018 did not spur more success for the rest of the year, but he is determined to continue playing 'good golf'
When Tommy Fleetwood arrived in the capital last week ahead of his latest defence of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA, he might have noticed some rather different branding en route to the course.
Lining the stretch of the E11 that leads to Abu Dhabi Golf Resort and Spa are a series of posters carrying the images of the world-renowned players that will be on show at the tournament. Chief among them is his own picture.
Fuelled in no small part by back-to-back wins in Abu Dhabi, Fleetwood has become a fixture of the world’s top 20 in recent times. And with his eye-catching performance in Europe’s rousing success at the Ryder Cup last September, he is now firmly established as one of the sport's poster boys, too.
Not quite David Beckham territory, yet, he says, but certainly more recognisable than he once was.
“The Ryder Cup is that one event where non-golf fans watch,” said Fleetwood, as he got set to attempt to make it three wins in a row in the capital.
“I’ve definitely had more recognition and people notice me more. It’s been very noticeably different at home, and to a certain extent around the world.
“I’m by no means like David Beckham, but I get recognised a little bit more now.”
Fleetwood will start his pursuit of a hat-trick of Abu Dhabi titles at the 10th tee on Wednesday, starting at 7.40am, alongside Brooks Koepka and Tyrrell Hatton.
He deems his 2017 win around the National Course as the “most meaningful” of his seven wins on tour to date.
Curiously, given how his profile was undoubtedly enhanced over the course of 2018, he did not in fact add to the title he won in Abu Dhabi 12 months ago during the remainder of the season.
That, he says, was a rare source of regret in what has otherwise felt like a time of plenty for the 27-year-old Englishman.
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA: First-round pairings and tee times
“I was disappointed, which is a strange thing to say really, because I had such an amazing year and was doing different things,” said Fleetwood, who finished the year third in the Race to Dubai standings.
“It was a very different year and I kind of solidified my place in the top 15 or 20 in the world, which was big. I had made such a rapid climb, but that’s all well and good.
“You’ve got to keep going and keep improving, and it gets much harder to stay there.”
Fleetwood, whose expectations of success this week have been tempered by the fact he is still feeling his way with a new set of irons, wants to return to winning ways as soon as possible.
“Only winning once, after winning straight off [in Abu Dhabi] was disappointing,” he said of 2018.
“At the same time, given the good golf I played, it just shows how difficult it is to win. It’s not a reflection of me doing things wrong. It just says it’s very difficult to win.
“I came close, just didn’t do it. I’m just trying to look at my game and improve, and think about what I want to be as a player. Hopefully that results in some wins.”
Updated: January 15, 2019 04:36 PM