To stand on the tee at a links course is to see everything. The destination is always clear even if the route to get there meanders through sun-soaked tall grass and around devilish pot bunkers. All of the challenges and demands standing between you and the hole are easily defined. There are no pesky trees or blind drives to obscure the view. In the place where golf was created and nurtured in the cradle, everything is laid out in front of your eyes.
Tommy Fleetwood knows where he wants to go. To that place where the dream he’s dreamed a million times becomes a reality. To win a major on his home soil would mean everything. And so he stood on those tee boxes 18 times on Thursday in an opening round free of any wind or rain or anything else the tide might bring in and capitalized on the moment, coasting through smooth conditions with relative ease and guile to put himself in the driver’s seat.
Six birdies and a bogey allowed him to sign for a 66 and a tie for the Open Championship lead with the 6-foot-8 amateur Christo Lamprecht and the 5-foot-9 Emiliano Grillo, who need to pose for one of those Aaron Judge-Jose Altuve pictures before the weekend closes. Fleetwood, who has flown a bit under the radar with effortless style and flowing locks and far too many near misses, is still searching for that elusive first PGA Tour win with his six international triumphs. He doesn’t dazzle but is steady and effective in an all-around manner, and that consistency has been on display all summer. Nick Taylor sent him home with a miraculous Hail Mary putt in Canada during a playoff before the Englishman notched a fifth-place finish at the U.S. Open and finished sixth last weekend in Scotland.
The golf world has been waiting for him to finally break down that door and the pounding is getting harder and more frequent. Maybe, just maybe, the dam will break next to the sea at the perfect time. For Fleetwood, who will go to bed tonight with that eternal vision more intense and lucid than ever before. For the British, who haven’t had a local champion since Tony Jacklin won at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1967. For fans who have simply wanted more for this guy because it seems like he deserves it.
It’d be a storybook ending and an easy story for the scribes to write. Of course, there’s still a hell of a long way to go. The Open is the most unpredictable of them all with wild weather and luck of the draw and so many other things out of the combatants’ hands to guide the journey. It’s venerable and classic yet always has a few new tricks up its sleeve. That was proven today by Justin Thomas shooting an 82, impossible sand hellholes that caused Tony Finau to putt backwards from deep within one, and the general tenor of the elite players giving it all they had just to finish at par or a shot below.
All the forecasts suggest a tempest is on the horizon. Rain gear will be ubiquitous and essential. Whoever prevails will earn it. Fleetwood, right now, is the favorite. In the betting markets and also in hearts and minds. They don’t hand out trophies for 18-hole leads yet it felt like a special moment in the sun for someone who should be standing in it, savoring the moment and the possibilities of what could be come Sunday.
It’s all right in front of him and, hell, it’d be cool to see him take it.