July 18, 2017: The English are a patient lot. It has been 51 years since their much-loved football team has achieved anything of substance. It took nearly eight decades before Andy Murray could lift the burden off Fred Perry’s grave with his Wimbledon victory. But even then, he is a Scot. As far as golf is concerned, the waiting for an Open winner continues. 25 years since Nick Faldo won in Muirfield, they are still waiting for the next man to win the Claret Jug.
The long wait hasn’t dampened their hopes though. Andrew Johnson sent spirits soaring with his crowd rousing efforts last year at Royal Troon. The mood at Royal Birkdale though is one of hope and excitement.
Tommy Fleetwood, young as he might be, is many people’s candidate for an English winner. The embattled Justin Rose has a legion of his own fans. Ian Poulter is a man of wit and charm – naturally he is adored unconditionally for his Ryder Cup heroics and a natural English humour.
But the big money in betting hungry England is on local lad Fleetwood. He lives barely five minutes from the course. Over the past few days, the story about how he crept through the fences to play this course, has nearly turned into a fairy tale.
“I can’t believe it’s been that long to be honest. English golf is in such a strong position right now so it should only be a matter of time. I hope it’s me that breaks the spell,” said Fleetwood.
“Missing out in 2008 was harsh, I wasn’t able to sleep back then knowing it was at Royal Birkdale. I’ve got pictures of me there as a little kid with my dad, Pete, just around the fields hitting a ball.
“I think it’s going to be brilliant. The fans are a noisy lot from around here and that’s really going to add to the atmosphere. It’s going to be a week I’m never going to forget, that’s for sure.
“A lot of people say it’s the best Open venue, even people who aren’t as biased as me. You hear it a lot, about the course and about the town, it’s right up there with St Andrews. Put that together with one of the best golf courses in the world and it’s going to be a cracking scene. It’s going to be a great Open.”
“To win The Open at Birkdale would be the ultimate,” he said. “Doing it anywhere is a dream but to win it five minutes from where you grew up, there would be nothing more special than that.”