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Inches From History, Fleetwood Continues Upward Trajectory

June 17, 2018 Southampton, N.Y. By Dave Shedloski
Tommy Fleetwood came within a few inches of making U.S. Open history in Sunday's final round. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Tommy Fleetwood got almost everything right on Sunday in the final round of the 118th U.S. Open. Including what he needed to win it.

Fleetwood equaled the championship record with a closing 7-under-par 63 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, and while he was reminded that he was only the second man to finish with that score in the final round of the U.S. Open, he quickly noted, “Yeah, but I wanted to shoot 62.”

He wasn’t being greedy. He was being Nostradamus.

Of course, a 62 would have set the U.S. Open record. It also would have tied the major championship scoring record Branden Grace, of South Africa, set last year in the final round of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

But most importantly, it would have earned him a tie with eventual winner Brooks Koepka. Instead, he had to settle for solo second place, one stroke in arrears, as he completed 72 holes in 2-over 282.

The Englishman, building on his T-4 finish last year at Erin Hills, played an impeccable round that featured eight birdies – including four in a row starting on the 12th hole – against one bogey. He hit 13 fairways and 16 greens in regulation. And he gave himself great birdie looks on the final three holes, only to see his putter go cold at the wrong time.

He missed from 13 feet on 16 and 19 feet on 17, but the putt he wants back is the 8-footer on 18 after a clutch 6-iron approach from 196 yards left him a putt almost straight up the slope. But it wasn’t straight, however. The putt veered right at the very end, inches from history.

“I wanted more for the 62 at the time. That was the putt that will play on your mind because that’s the last shot you hit. Your score is your score.

“Getting that close to winning a major again is what I’ll take from it.”

Fleetwood became the sixth player to shoot 63 in the U.S. Open and just the second, after Johnny Miller in 1973 at Oakmont, to do it in the final round. Like Miller, he started the day six shots behind the leaders. And Fleetwood’s 63 came 35 years to the day Miller pulled off his miracle.

The only difference is that Miller went on to win. In fact, only Miller and Jack Nicklaus, who opened with 63 at Baltusrol in 1980, converted their record scores into a trophy.

The others to accomplish the feat were Tom Weiskopf, also in the opening round at Baltusrol in ’80, Vijay Singh in the second round at Olympia Fields in 2003, and Justin Thomas in last year’s third round at Erin Hills. Thomas shot 9 under and Miller 8. The rest were 7 under scores on par-70 layouts.

Fleetwood, 27, of Southport, England, had to cool his heels for more than two hours after posting his 282, hoping it would be enough. Enjoying his first Father’s Day as a dad, he hung onto and played with his infant son, Frankie, as he watched the groups behind him try to match or beat his score.

Only Koepka, the defending champion, with whom Fleetwood was paired in last year’s final round, could do it, settling for bogey on the 72nd hole after pulling his approach left of the green for 68 and 281.

“It was a good one. It was a great one,” Fleetwood, easily identifiable with his flowing locks billowing in the breeze, said of his final-round charge. “Yeah, so many positives, so many great things. Had a chance to shoot a 62. And at the end of the day, I got within one of winning, when I was so far back at the start of the day. It’s easy to look at it and think I was one shy, and you can be disappointed. But there’s so many positives to look at and so much that you can take from it and learn from it.”

Winner of the Race to Dubai on the European Tour last year, Fleetwood already was the owner of the week’s low score at Shinnecock when he shot a second-round 66, but Rickie Fowler posted 65 early Sunday morning. Fleetwood then embarked on quite a putting display, converting 161 feet of birdie putts throughout the day. He birdied four of his first seven holes to immediately jump into contention. His only blemish came on the par-4 ninth, where he missed the green short and failed to get up and down.

Oddly, he did not birdie either of the par 5s. But he beat his third-round 78 by 15 strokes.

Tellingly, whether competing on a friendly layout like Erin Hills, where he finished at 11 under last year, or the stiff challenge of Shinnecock, clearly Fleetwood has a feel for playing well in the U.S. Open.

The champion agrees.

“Sixty-three in a U.S. Open is always pretty impressive,” Koepka said. “It was hard not to miss. It was the lowest red number up there. Seven under is incredible. Hats off to him. That’s some golf. He seems to bring it every time it’s a U.S. Open. He’s a great player. I mean, I’ve known him for maybe five years now. But he’s an incredible player. He’ll definitely be holding some major championships here soon.”

Fleetwood didn’t want to be so presumptuous. He’s been trending in that direction, however, since his amateur days, starting with his victory in the 2009 Scottish Amateur Stroke Play Championship and the English Amateur in 2010.

“I don't feel like I’m bound to win a major, because I think it takes a lot of hard work, and you need the right breaks, and there’s so many good golfers now that you can’t really think that way,” Fleetwood said. “So, for me, I’ll just continue to put in the hard work and surround myself with the people that I need. And hopefully I will get there, and hopefully I’ll win one or more than one.

“At the end of the day, this is my best result in a major yet. So now there’s only one thing I can do from here, and that’s win one. At the position I’m in, performing in them a little bit more, yeah, at some point I’ll start to look and think, ‘yeah, I can win these majors,’ and I’ll start to find a way to try to win them.”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to and