Tommy Fleetwood was on the verge of breaking the single-round scoring record at the U.S. Open last month until an 8-footer for 62 slid by the hole on the 18th green at Shinnecock Hills.
The groan from the crowd turned to laughter when a fan yelled from the grandstand: “It’s OK, Tommy, your hair is still gorgeous!”
Of that, there is little doubt. Fleetwood’s hair is long and flowing, spilling out from beneath his golf cap as if he were some ‘70s rock star.
His golf game isn’t too bad, either.
On Friday he borrowed a yellow umbrella — more on that later — and went out in the rain to vault into contention in the British Open. Not only did his hair stay dry, but his 6-under 65 was the round of the day and left him just a shot off the lead.
It was spectacular, though not entirely unexpected. Fleetwood does, after all, own the course record at Carnoustie, a 63 he shot last year in the Dunhill Links Championship, and the 63 he shot in the final round at Shinnecock Hills showed he’s not afraid to go low in major tournaments.
What he hasn’t shown yet is that he can win a major championship. But that could change if he finds a way to keep scoring as he found a way to stay dry in the second round of the British Open.
It was enough to make him start thinking — if just a bit — about what it might be like on Sunday if the engraver was putting his name on the claret jug.
“I can’t lie about it,” Fleetwood said. “If I could pick one tournament in my life to win, it would be the Open. I’ve never been anywhere near before. So far for two rounds, I’m up there on the leaderboard.”
It’s a nice position, and where he desperately wanted to be last year when the Open was held in his hometown of Southport, England. It didn’t work out at Royal Birkdale after Fleetwood battled nerves for a 76 in the opening round that put him out of contention, but the experience paid some dividends.
Now he finds himself just a shot out of the lead heading into the weekend on a course he seems to own.
“I’ve put myself back in the tournament, and I’ve just got to move on from there really,” Fleetwood said. “If I can hit it like I did today, then, obviously, I’m going to have a lot of chances coming in over the weekend, and we’ll see where that takes me.”
Fleetwood’s game has already taken him to places he might not have imagined while growing up in the English resort town of Southport. He’s won only four times but he’s No. 10 in the world and become an instantly recognizable player in a sport where conformity rules.
The look — and accent — is more late Beatle George Harrison than button-down country clubber. The first time Fleetwood had a conversation with Tiger Woods — who invited him to his tournament in the Bahamas last December — the host asked him when he was going to get his hair cut.
“Actually I had my hair cut yesterday or the day before,” Fleetwood said. “And he didn’t believe me.”
Fleetwood’s recent success isn’t the only thing that’s changed in his life. He got married at Woods’ tournament in the Bahamas and travels to tournaments now with a baby instead of his dog.
He’s also caught the attention of some of the world’s best players, who have embraced him as one of their own. They’re expecting a breakthrough win, especially after his second-place finish at the U.S. Open.
“He’s a very, very solid player,” Rory McIlroy said. “He’s won a lot over the last couple of years. He had a great chance at Shinnecock. He’s been putting himself in the mix. The more you do that, the more experience you gain, and from there, it’s only a matter of time.”
It may not be much more time, if Friday’s round was any indication. After an opening 72, Fleetwood didn’t make a bogey in the morning rain, finishing with a birdie on the normally brutal 18th hole for his 65.
All the while he kept dry under a yellow Open umbrella that looked as if it were purchased in the merchandise tent.
“We got one given for free, actually,” Fleetwood said. “We didn’t steal it. We got one given for free, but we don’t always carry an umbrella. See, we don’t have a sponsor. So it just so happens this week that we’ve got a nice Open Championship brolly. It looked quite nice.”
So, of course, did Fleetwood’s hair. And the best part?
It was dry.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg