“I was in a really bad mood,” said Fleetwood after signing for a six-under-par 66 of the sudden disappearance of the facial hair that he’d sported for a long time. “It was like breaking some golf clubs or shave my beard, then I went for the beard.”
The 31-year-old, who is tied for the clubhouse lead at TPC Sawgrass with American Keith Mitchell, later admitted that story had been “partly true”.
He added: “It was kind of in a mess, and I was going to shave it. Then I was sort of in a bad enough mood where I couldn’t be bothered putting the clipper on, like on number nine, so I just took it. It will grow back.”
His wife, Clare, will be pleased about that. “She definitely has a preference, and it’s not this one,” he said of the new look, which Fleetwood Reckons has taken “about 15 years off me”.
Relaying a story about his beard, he said: “It was my 31st birthday in Abu Dhabi this year, and I was playing with Viktor Hovland and Collin [Morikawa].
“Both of them were looking at me like, we had to Google your age. I thought you were 37, 38. That’s a pretty harsh comment, to be fair. Everyone kind of noticed that I look a lot younger without the beard. That’s a positive.
“Clare definitely prefers me with a beard, so I’ll definitely grow it back. As long as I can keep my temper and keep smiling, then I won’t have to shave it off again.”
Seventy-five players have still to complete their opening round after the start of play was delayed by an hour then the action was suspended for around four hours and 15 minutes due to heavy rain.
The delay in the middle of his round didn’t affect Fleetwood, whose career scoring average on this course is now 70.27 – the best of any player in the event’s history with 15 or more rounds.
“It’s a great first day,” said the Southport man, who currently sits 50th in the world and only just sneaked into the field on this occasion.
“I’m chuffed to be in on that score. I felt like I drove the ball well aside from a couple, and I felt like I chipped and putted great.
“That was the most I could have got out of the round. So days like that are very, very pleasing.”
World No 1 Jon Rahm covered his last eight holes in three-under to sign for a 69, one better than Ryder Cup team-mate Paul Casey, who started with an ugly triple-bogey 7 before storming home in 31.
Russell Knox, who dropped his only shot of the day straight after the restart, opened with a 71, a shot less than compatriot Martin Laird, who finished bogey-bogey-birdie.
Due to darkness, the first round was suspended at 6.36pm local time, with 60 of the 72 players in the afternoon wave having started the first round.
The first round is scheduled to resume at 7.15am local time on Friday.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.