It says something about Tommy Fleetwood’s quality that he has been tied so closely to two of golf’s recurring thoughts. Both play to the same question: who is the next man up?

In simpler times we may have asked it solely in the context of who will be next to break their duck in the majors. But these days it also probes at the contemporary drama of LIV and their next batch of targets.

Fleetwood has naturally found himself mentioned with some regularity in each of those conversations; a golfer regularly on the precipice of crashing through and a golfer too good not to draw offers from an ambitious start-up circuit.

As he sits with Mail Sport in the Florida sunshine, with the first major of the season a fortnight away at The Masters, we start with the matter at hand. That being the harder one to achieve.

‘It hasn’t happened yet, has it?’ he says, and we are talking about a record that shows the world No 12 has finished second in both The Open and US Open, with three further top-fives across those two and the US PGA Championship.

Tommy Fleetwood is looking to put his previous struggles behind him at this year's Masters

Tommy Fleetwood is looking to put his previous struggles behind him at this year's Masters

Tommy Fleetwood is looking to put his previous struggles behind him at this year’s Masters

The 33-year-old has finished inside the top 20 in three of the past six years at Augusta National

The 33-year-old has finished inside the top 20 in three of the past six years at Augusta National

The 33-year-old has finished inside the top 20 in three of the past six years at Augusta National

Augusta? That is a beast this 33-year-old Englishman is yet to tame and it’s a little baffling when you weigh the merits of a player whose ball-striking is the envy of most on tour, whose natural draw is a perfect fit for the landscape, and whose putting is strong. Baffling for those of us watching and baffling for him as well, it would seem.

‘Believe me, I see it that way!’ he says. ‘My results there have been a bit “meh” – I had a tie for 14th a couple of years ago and that’s my best.

‘I can’t really put a finger on it. The second year I played The Masters was 2018 I had a really good third round and I was playing third to last group on the Sunday. I was feeling, “Well, this is a great course for me”, but it always has a way of being able to kick you, doesn’t it?

‘That Sunday I think I put it in the water on 15 and then finished with a bogey and ended up 17th. It’s not really what you want, is it?

‘In real terms if I tell my kids when they grow up that I had a 14th and a 17th at The Masters, it’s fine, right? They might let me off for that. But it’s just not at the level the others have been. This year I looked at things and I was like, “Well I’ve never played the week before”, and that’s the only major I’ve not. I’m giving that a go (at the Valero Open in Texas) and we’ll see if that helps.’

Fleetwood has always been a man for whom folk wish the best. He is bright, fun, not remotely preoccupied by ideas of his own self-importance. 

‘I hit golf balls for a job,’ he says. And he does it well. People like him. But they also insert him into those discussions about the best player without one of the big four titles to his name.

‘It’s a bit of a backhanded compliment, right?’ he says. ‘It’s a tricky one. It’s nice that people see my game that way but, believe me, I want to get off that list.

Though he's viewed as one of the sport's best players, Fleetwood still lacks a major title

Though he's viewed as one of the sport's best players, Fleetwood still lacks a major title

Though he’s viewed as one of the sport’s best players, Fleetwood still lacks a major title

Fleetwood admitted that the course at Augusta 'always has a way of being able to kick you'

Fleetwood admitted that the course at Augusta 'always has a way of being able to kick you'

Fleetwood admitted that the course at Augusta ‘always has a way of being able to kick you’

‘I think it’s important to remember there’s some phenomenal golfers who have not won a major. How can anyone knock Lee Westwood’s career? Incredible. But he never won a major. Colin Montgomerie was one of my heroes growing up, won eight Order of Merits, but never quite won a major.

‘There are better golfers than me that never won one. I’ve got a good few years left off my career, touch wood, and I just have to keep giving myself chances. I would love to win one, two, three of them, but to get to two you have to get to one first.

‘For me, growing up in Southport surrounded by Open venues, winning The Open is the one I dream of. I still dream of it like I’m seven years old. I will always say if you had to pick one to win and never touch the clubs again, for me The Open is streets ahead in a way.

‘But I suppose The Masters would be nice, wouldn’t it? I still have the old soundtrack from the BBC opening credits in my mind when I talk about it now. If I had to have a green jacket in the wardrobe I suppose I’ll tolerate it!’

To date, Fleetwood has seven titles on the European circuit, most recently in his adopted home of Dubai in January, though curiously none have come stateside. With five runner-up finishes, four thirds, 22 top-fives and 33 top-10s, he has done everything but win, though his mark was felt by the Americans last year when he took the decisive point in Europe’s Ryder Cup victory.

Spain's Jon Rahm stands with The Masters title after his triumph back in April last year

Spain's Jon Rahm stands with The Masters title after his triumph back in April last year

Spain’s Jon Rahm stands with The Masters title after his triumph back in April last year

It speaks to golf’s turbulence that six months on two key cogs of Luke Donald’s team – Jon Rahm, the defending Masters champion, and Tyrrell Hatton – now play on the LIV tour. It is well known that they have wanted Fleetwood from the very beginning and the latest push to get him was made shortly after the Cup win in Rome.

They didn’t get their man, with Fleetwood preferring to stay on the PGA Tour. For now, at least. Given the uncertainties of his sport’s political situation, with merger talks yet to conclude how the LIV and the PGA Tour might co-exist, and indeed how LIV golfers might find a route back to the majors, adopting a watching brief is probably wise.

‘You know, I’m 33 years old and I’m still very much in the middle of my career,’ he says. ‘My decisions will always be made on where I think I can best pursue my goals, my dreams, and where I feel like I can still chase being the best golfer I can possibly be.

‘Obviously I’m still playing here (on the PGA Tour) and that’s where I believe gives me the best chance of doing those things that I just mentioned.

Fleetwood said he's 'in the best place for me to be pursuing my dreams of winning majors'

Fleetwood said he's 'in the best place for me to be pursuing my dreams of winning majors'

Fleetwood said he’s ‘in the best place for me to be pursuing my dreams of winning majors’

‘I mean, I’ll never be one to knock anybody’s choices or anybody’s decisions. And I guess you have to give things time and see how things play out.

‘As we’ve seen there’s people a lot higher up (than the golfers themselves) that made decisions on where the world of golf is. It would be great for the best players to all play together and for us all to challenge ourselves against the best players.

‘But for me at the moment, I just believe I’m in the best place for me to be pursuing my dreams of winning majors.’

Will he be the next man up? That remains to be seen on a couple of counts.

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