Tommy Fleetwood is tied for first with Tom Hoge in the Players Championship

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tommy Fleetwood, a once top-10 men’s golfer, has been missing from the PGA Tour standings for so long that fan...

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tommy Fleetwood, a once top-10 men’s golfer, has been missing from the PGA Tour standings for so long that fans may not have recognized him when he took the top spot in the of the first round of the Players Championship here on Thursday.

Fleetwood also shaved off his trademark – and popular – gathered beard. And it turns out the facial hair is missing, in part because of his last two years of shredded play, which caused Fleetwood to lose his playing privileges on the PGA Tour.

“I was in a really bad mood,” Fleetwood, 31, said. “It was breaking golf clubs or shaving my beard. I went for the beard.

Fleetwood, a handsome Englishman best known for his shoulder-length hair and his second-place finish in the US Open 2018 at Shinnecock Hills, played like his old self for 18 holes on Thursday. His six-under par 66 was one of the lowest scores among dozens of golfers who completed a first round that was twice delayed by heavy rain and thunderstorms.

When play was suspended due to darkness on Thursday night, Fleetwood were tied at the top of the ranking with Tom Hoge. About half of the participants have not completed their rounds and hope to start early Friday morning, although more rain is expected.

But Fleetwood’s usual sunny disposition broke through, and his golfing backstory would be relevant to anyone who played the game recreationally or professionally. While he spent more than 15 minutes trying to explain how one of the best golfers in the world fell into an on-course funk that at one point dropped him to No. 137 in the FedEx rankings Cup, he also smiled and simplified.

“It’s just a weird game that you never seem to be able to figure out or make any sense at all,” Fleetwood said with a laugh.

While he admitted to being somewhat lost in a golf abyss, he refused to be oppressed.

“I still have one of the best jobs in the world,” Fleetwood said. “I just didn’t reach the level I wanted to perform at. Again, I’m not going to sit here and moan or complain about playing poorly for a few years.

Fleetwood, who plays on both the PGA and European tours, offered some explanation for his fall from the ninth-ranked player in the world in 2018 to the 49th entering the Players Championship this week.

“There were some things about my swing that I didn’t quite understand,” he said. “So your confidence takes a hit because you’re not very comfortable on the golf course. It adds up.

He added: “My results weren’t great, but obviously I missed some really good results. And then I think especially from a world ranking point of view, it makes it very, very difficult. So, I kind of tapered off.

Traveling around the world to play on two tours didn’t help.

“You play minimal events on both tours,” Fleetwood said. “Even in my best years, I always started way behind 8-ball just to play consistently throughout those years. Again, hard to get ahead. And when you don’t see good scores and shots aren’t not quite there, it becomes more and more difficult to change this momentum.

For Fleetwood, like most golfers, the game mystifies. And that goes for even the best of the best. He didn’t, for example, come to Florida hoping to lead the Players Championship at some point. Late Thursday afternoon after his game, he spoke of playing “terrible” lately – but then birdied his first two holes.

It may have brought good karma, but it was cut short when bad weather forced a delay of over three hours. Fleetwood, however, was undeterred.

“I was pretty happy when the delay happened,” he said. “You knew a delay was coming anyway, so I took the break and later I was able to practice. Then I started the day with a putt and started again.

Rain-soaked fairways and greens made conditions difficult, but Fleetwood remained unfazed, birdying three more on his next nine holes. He finished with a birdie on the par-5 16th hole and another on the treacherous 18th. The closing left him smiling, but he wouldn’t predict future results, not after the past two years. Looking ahead to his next round, he said: “I could play terribly, I could play really well. We’ll see.”

Fleetwood was much more certain of the eventual fate of his once famous beard.

When asked if his wife, Clare, liked him clean-shaven or with facial hair, he replied, “She definitely has a preference, and it’s not this one.”

Fleetwood thinks he looks younger without the beard. He was playing in a tournament with fellow Tour players Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa on his 31st birthday in January, he said, when the pair looked at him and said: “We had to Google your age I thought you were 37, 38.

He added: “Everyone kind of noticed that I looked a lot younger without the beard.”

But then Fleetwood had one last thought.

“Clare definitely prefers me with a beard, so I’m definitely going to regrow it,” he said. “As long as I can keep my cool and keep smiling, I won’t have to shave anymore.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Tommy Fleetwood is tied for first with Tom Hoge in the Players Championship
Tommy Fleetwood is tied for first with Tom Hoge in the Players Championship
Newsrust - US Top News
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