Tommy Fleetwood was born in and grew up in Southport but on the wrong side of the tracks so wasn’t able to play at Royal Birkdale often. He honed his golf skills at Southport Municipal and those skills give him a chance of winning the Shenzhen International on the European Tour this week. Fleetwood could then take his career to a new level in the Open Championship at Birkdale this summer in the town of his birth.
The Texas Open on the PGA Tour is a good opportunity for Branden Grace to win in the States for the second time. He is a links golf specialist and the Open is the major he is most likely to win. Wind will be a factor this week and Grace can handle a breeze and that will give him an advantage over other players in the field at Birkdale this July. This week could provide some key pointers to this year’s British Open.
The Shenzhen International is being played at Genzon Golf Club in China for the third time. The former champions are Kiradech Aphibarnrat from Thailand and Soomin Lee from Korea which means both winners were from Asia and no European player has won the tournament. The winning scores were 12 under and 16 under on a par 72 course measuring 7,145 yards. The course puts a premium on accuracy over distance but length off the tee and putts per round are also key skills.
The Texas Open has been played at TPC San Antonio since 2010 so there is plenty of course form to assess. At over 7,400 and with a par of 72 the layout is average in terms of distance and standard for its par. The key skills for good scoring and contending are hitting fairways and greens and strokes gained putting. The venue is slightly above sea level and the players must handle winds associated with the state in which the course is located. Wind conditions are usually a factor in Texas.
There is a lull in both tours as the Masters has now been played and the next massive event is the Players Championship in the second week in May. That event often attracts the strongest field of the year and for that reason is known as the fifth major. The tournament fits neatly into the calendar as May is the only month from April to August in which a major does not take place. Sergio Garcia is a former winner but this year he won’t be competing as the best player to have not won a major.
The player formerly known as El Nino is now a man in the context of major championship golf. His playoff win over Justin Rose in the Masters Tournament showed golf and sport at the highest level in great light. The dignity with which Rose lost is an example to players of other sports (and some public figures) of how to accept a defeat and show class when things don’t go your way. The world would be a better and less divisive place if others behaved like Rose when suffering a reverse.
Fleetwood is now safely ensconsed in the top 50 in the world rankings so gets to play the majors and world golf championship events. He has a poor record in the four events that matter most as in seven efforts in majors he has missed the cut six times, including at Augusta two weeks ago. However, in winning the Abu Dhabi Championship in January his career has gone up several notches and that process can continue in China this week and at Birkdale in three months at the Open.
Grace won the RBC Heritage this time last year and has also won seven tournaments on the European Tour. He has won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on seaside courses in Scotland and two Qatar Masters in Doha which can also be wind affected. Grace lost in a playoff to Phil Mickelson in the 2013 Scottish Open which was also played on a links course so a venue in Texas will not faze him and he can contend this week. In the last two years Grace has made the frame in four major championships.
Fleetwood and Grace are prominent in the betting for their respective tournaments. Their world ranking makes them both leading contenders on courses suited to their game. This could be a good week for both players but not as good as potentially the third week in July in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.