Thursday, May 6, 2021

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Tyrrell Hatton returns to Bay Hill ready to defend first TOUR title

This week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational will be played in front of a limited gallery, estimated at 4,000-5,000 people a day. Hatton looks forward to any level of atmosphere that fans can provide after competing in near silence for months.

“We’ve missed the fans,” he said. “That’s normally such a huge part of every tournament, the atmosphere that they create. The buzz on a Sunday afternoon is something we’ve all been used to. We love that. I just think having fans back again in any capacity is going to be a great thing for the TOUR.” 

Winning at Bay Hill last March sparked a torrid run for Hatton. When he resumed play after a 15-week break, Hatton finished T3 and T4 in his first two starts (RBC Heritage and Rocket Mortgage Classic). Since June, he posted his fifth and sixth European Tour victories – the BMW PGA Championship last fall and Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January – amid a handful of other top-10 worldwide finishes.

With his financial windfall, Hatton purchased a residence at Lake Nona, about 20 minutes from Bay Hill. It’s a long way from where he started, playing mini-tours in town. Somewhat quietly, Hatton will tee it up at Bay Hill as the sixth-ranked player in the world (he was fifth last week). Among Europeans, only Spain’s Jon Rahm (second) is ranked higher, and Hatton is a lock to play in his second Ryder Cup in September. (European captain Padraig Harrington called Hatton “a Ryder Cup dream.”)

“For me, I look at it as kind of surreal,” said Hatton, who hails from Marlow in County Buckinghamshire. “I don’t sort of change anything with my routine, or think of myself any differently. I try to go to every single tournament and try my best when I get there, and if you are able to play good golf, the world rankings is a byproduct of that.”

At World No. 6, does he believe he will keep climbing? 

“It’s really cool to be where I’m at in the World Rankings at the moment, and I’m hoping I can keep playing well,” he said. “It would be nice to try to get higher. We’ll see how we go.”

Hatton, who doesn’t turn 30 until October, often gets left off the list of the game’s top twentysomethings. He has many strengths in his game, and few weaknesses. For starters, few players hit it any straighter, and that helps Hatton create plenty of quality approaches (he ranked fourth in 2019-20 in Strokes Gained: Approach The Green) and birdie opportunities. He averaged 4.55 birdies a round last season, second best on TOUR.

Hatton also ranked 10th in scoring (69.50) and finished seventh in the FedExCup standings despite making only 11 PGA TOUR starts (he finished top 10 in six of them). He is the complete package, with a swing honed by his father, Jeff Hatton, an instructor and clubfitter who build a makeshift golf studio in the garage at Tyrrell’s grandmother’s house in England. (Jeff Hatton is a busy man these days; golfers are asked to book lessons at least a week ahead.) When Tyrrell’s swing feels a little off, which is rare these days, he sends off video to his father to have a look. They often return to discussing the very basics.

Hatton will readily admit that nobody is tougher on Tyrrell Hatton than Tyrrell Hatton. Some of his post-shot antics in the fairways and histrionics after missed putts are the stuff of YouTube legend, on both sides of the pond. (“We all know what the sound is when the teapot is ready,” NBC’s Paul Azinger quipped as Hatton double-bogeyed a hole during last year’s API.) David Feherty made the astute observation that Hatton is nice to everybody but himself.

Hatton even participated in a European Tour video spoof titled “Angry Golfers,” a group session led by fellow Englishman Tommy Fleetwood. The entertaining spot is funny and quite clever, and has received rave reviews. In it, a sheepish Hatton, newest group member, keeps his head bowed as he shamefully introduces himself thusly: “I’m Tyrrell, and I’m an angry golfer.” A playful collection of players that includes Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Matt Wallace and Eddie Pepperell responds in concert, “Hi, Tyrrell.” 

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