New rules and new clubs test Fleetwood

Brooks Koepka of the United States, Dustin Johnson of the United States, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, and Tommy Fleetwood of England “go back to school with HSBC to get to grips with the new rules for 2019” ahead of the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. The start of 2019 has seen major changes made to the Rules of Golf, including dropping the ball from knee, rather than shoulder height, and the removal of a penalty for hitting the pin while putting on a green. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Tommy Fleetwood admits it might be “asking a bit much” to complete a hat-trick of Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship titles as he gets to grip with new clubs and new rules.

Fleetwood won his second European Tour event in Abu Dhabi in 2017 and successfully defended the title 12 months ago thanks to a closing round of 65, which included six birdies in a back nine of 30.

However, with equipment manufacturer Nike no longer making clubs, Fleetwood has been down to the last set of his favourite irons since early last year and has been testing various options over the winter.

“I’ve been trying things for a long time now,” Fleetwood told a pre-tournament press conference ahead of today’s first round of the €6 million event, which is part of the lucrative Rolex Series for the first time.

“I spent quite a bit of time in San Diego last year, trying all different manufacturers. You don’t really get the chance throughout the year and then you get the chance again as the year ends, but I had a pretty dry spell of not playing golf, so the only time to test is now, really.

“The problem with testing is we play such a busy schedule, and even if you’re at home and you play, it’s not the same as being at a tournament. I’ve got a new driver this week, I’ve got new irons. (But) Thursday could be a completely different scenario.

At some point, I need a more long-term solution. If you think about it, I’ve had the same set of clubs for six, seven years. I need to look at the next period of time.

Fleetwood discovered this week that his 2018 victory has yet to be reflected on the trophy in Abu Dhabi, where he will partner world number two Brooks Koepka — who pipped him to the US Open last year — and Tyrrell Hatton in the first two rounds.

“2018 is actually not on it yet, there’s still only 2017 so they need to sort that out,” Fleetwood joked as he examined the trophy. “It might be asking a bit much wouldn’t it to win it three times in a row, but you never know.”

The start of 2019 has seen major changes made to the Rules of Golf, including the removal of a penalty for hitting the pin while putting on a green.

Asked if he will leave the flag in when putting, Fleetwood added: “Yes and no. I don’t really have any science to it or anything like that.

“I know that there’s lip-outs that you can have that can catch friction off the pin that go in when they might have a chance of missing. But you can also hit the pin dead-centre and it can jar out. I don’t really know if there’s a formula for it.”

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