We speak to back-to-back Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship winner Tommy Fleetwood ahead of his return to the capital in January.
What excites you most about the upcoming Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship?
It’s crazy to think that this year will be my 8th appearance at the event, I’m not sure where all the time has gone. I always love starting my year in Abu Dhabi, there’s just something special about the place. Coming back as defending champion is obviously exciting in itself but I don’t think there’s one thing that excites me because it’s the whole package, from the way you are looked after at the hotel, to the golf course to the weather and especially the people that work so closely the event like the volunteers, they all do an amazing job. It’s just a great place to start the year because if you have a good finish, it sets you up for the year.
How does this tournament in particular help set you up for the year ahead?
Playing well so early in the year gives you a lot of confidence, although I didn’t go on and win again in 2018, I had a lot of top finishes where I challenged on the back nine on Sunday, which is a position I always want to get myself in to. Defending a title for the first time last year boosted my confidence even more and it was quite funny how much I didn’t want to give the trophy back.
What do you think is the biggest challenge of the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi?
Until the last two years I’ve actually found the course really difficult. If you are not driving the ball well, it can be really punishing. The other challenge is the fact the field is usually one of the strongest on the European Tour so to win, you have to beat some of the best players in the world. This year the event is in the Rolex Series for the first time so no doubt it will be as competitive as ever.
You’ve won here twice and are the reigning champion! How confident are you that this could be your year again and you could make history as the first person to bag three in a row?
It would be amazing to achieve something like that but I’m not getting ahead of myself. I really enjoyed coming back as defending champion last year and everything that came with that. Like I said, I actually felt quite possessive over the trophy on the back nine on Sunday and really didn’t want to give it back so luckily played some of my best golf to hang on to it.
You will go up against some top quality opposition. Who do you think will be the biggest challenge to you and why?
You can never write off DJ and Brooks. They don’t play too much on the European Tour but at the end of the day they are two of the best players in the world and if they play well, they are going to be tough to beat!
You’ve played in Abu Dhabi before – how does the atmosphere measure up against other international events you’ve played at?
The fans and the people in general in Abu Dhabi are awesome! The tournament seems to get busier and busier every year and they are always so supportive, especially on the 17th and 18th where they have a huge stand beside the green. I’ll never forget the crowds cheering when I held the putt on 18 in 2017 to win and I’m always grateful for their support.
What is your message for fans coming along to the tournament this year?
Thanks for all the support and I’m looking forward to seeing you all out there in January again.
WORDS Colin Armstrong