David Howell: Tommy Fleetwood’s remarkable rise is no shock

After leading the Race to Dubai for most of the season it was fitting that Tommy Fleetwood should hang on and win at the expense of the fast-finishing Justin Rose, who once again showed his class in defeat.

In 2012 I played 9 holes practice at Leopard Creek in South Africa with a young man from Southport England. As I recall, he had just won the Challenge Tour Road to Oman to earn his card to play on the 2013 European Tour. I remember that he hit the ball incredibly hard and seemed quite self-assured. He got injured soon after and didn’t do much of note for quite some time. His name, you guessed it, is Tommy Fleetwood, Europe’s number one player for the 2017 season.

What a rise through the ranks Tommy has made, from a youthful bundle of potential to one of the Tour’s most recognisable characters and one of its best players. The same year he became a father, too. Whatever happens to Tommy in the future, 2017 will go down as a seminal year for him. Nobody deserves the success more. As always in sport, talent needs to be paired with discipline and desire to make a difference, and Tommy has given his all to the game.

How fitting that in the first year of the Rolex Series events, the Race to Dubai was won by a former Challenge Tour player who honed his talents on the Challenge Tour. It was a thrilling final day at Jumeirah Golf Estates as Justin Rose looked set to win the Race to Dubai and the DP World Tour Championship having just won two events back-to-back. He certainly put pressure on Fleetwood on the first 9 holes in the DP World Tour Championship. Then, having played near-flawless golf for 63 holes, Justin, made a couple of mistakes, which cost him dear. Needing to finish second to win the Race to Dubai, he left himself a 90-foot eagle putt on the last. One whole year of golf coming down to just one putt at the end. He missed it and had to settle for a share of fourth place and second place in the final Race to Dubai – and Europe crowned its new number one.

‘Quiet year’

It felt like it had been a quiet year for Justin with the let-down of not winning the Masters, in a play-off with Sergio Garcia. But Justin is looking forward now and not back and in Tommy, we have heralded the next generation of English star players. In the midst of the drama, as is often the case at the DP World Tour Championship, the winner almost got lost in the moment. Jon Rahm won his second Rolex Series event of the year, having won the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. Jon is so good it’s easy to forget he’s still a rookie. His rise to stardom is nothing short of spectacular. Only 18 months ago he was a college golfer, now he’s fourth in the world, holds three titles and is just about golf’s hottest property.

Ryder Cup Captain, Thomas Bjørn, can hardly believe his luck. A genuine top level star player from Spain has just appeared before his eyes, Rose is playing the best golf of his life again, Fleetwood is going all out to surge into the European side, and the likes of Ross Fisher, Tyrrell Hatton and friends are regularly shooting the lights out. The Ryder Cup is the future, but we should focus on the success of the Rolex Series. The uplift in prize funds at our biggest events has rivalled the PGA Tour and provided our top players with the platform to shine increasing interest from players worldwide. The new dawn is a good one. To hold on to your playing rights you had to earn £80,000 more this year than last, that’s a big pay rise in anyone’s language.
One thing is clear – you need to play well in the Rolex Series events throughout the season whether you’re at the top or bottom of the Race to Dubai. Travelling the world to compete is expensive and a big cheque every now and then eases the pressure. The Tour looks very different than it did only a few years ago. The Rolex Series, with eight huge events of global status, has created fantastic progress for the European Tour and it’s only the beginning of this new chapter. Whatever happens next, one thing can never be changed: Tommy Fleetwood won the 2017 Race to Dubai, and he can be very, very proud indeed.

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