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Yanks Strike Out Near Boston

BROOKLINE, MASSACHUSETTS | One hundred years ago here at The Country Club, Francis Ouimet became America’s first bona fide golf hero, a little-known local amateur who took down legendary English professionals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to win the U.S. Open. Last week, in this cradle of the American game, the plot was drastically reversed. At the 113th U.S. Amateur, the visitors from abroad were the heroes. From qualifying through Sunday’s final, golfers from England, Australia, Canada and elsewhere stole the headlines. The Americans, embarrassingly, were the championship’s also-rans. An Englishman and an Aussie were co-medalists. Foreigners comprised half of the Sweet 16. The last three surviving Americans fell in the quarterfinals, leaving an all-international semifinal cast. And for the first time in championship history, the final did not include an American player. As patriotic moments go, this was far from Brookline 1999. Four highly ranked American amateurs – Michael Kim, Cory Whitsett, Justin Thomas and Max Homa – failed to qualify for match play. Michael Weaver exited in the first round and Patrick Rodgers in the Round of 16. U.S. Junior Amateur champ Scottie Scheffler, Philadelphia stalwart Brandon Matthews and obscure Virginian Adam Ball advanced the furthest but ultimately couldn’t finish the job. Instead, an international corps led by Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, Australians Oliver Goss and Brady Watt, and Canadian Corey Conners upstaged the Yanks on their home turf. Fitzpatrick, the boyish 18-year-old who gained worldwide acclaim as low amateur at the recent Open Championship at Muirfield, plotted his way around The Country Club’s beefed-up composite course with aplomb. A slight 5 foot 9 with nary a hair out of place on his perpetually hatless head, he strolled the fairways alongside his younger (and shorter) brother, Alex, his caddie. Their nationality aside, the brothers recalled Ouimet and his pint-sized sidekick, Eddie Lowery. With a taut swing, deft touch and flair for the dramatic, Fitzpatrick emerged a fan favorite. In his semifinal against Conners, an athletic 21-year-old with Elsian tempo, Fitzpatrick fell 2 down early but led, 1 up, when the pair arrived at the 369-yard 17th, the hole Justin Leonard made famous with his monster putt at the ’99 Ryder Cup. After watching Conners, who had missed the green short, play a masterful third to gimme range, Fitzpatrick buried an 18-foot birdie putt to win, eliciting a roar and earning him the Amateur finalists’ coveted spoils: an expected Masters invitation and a berth in the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Ever the proper Englishman, Fitzpatrick dispensed handshakes not only to his opponents but to the officials and standard-bearers following his matches. And he was at once good-humored and charmingly humble in his exchanges with the media, tweaking Tiger Woods for his sometimes wayward driving and downplaying his own all-world short game, claiming it to be his worst attribute, statistically speaking. In short, Fitzpatrick has a game and persona that are as easy to like as his brisk pace of play. “He just gets on with business,” said Neil Raymond, a fellow Englishman who was the championship’s co-medalist with Watt before losing to Conners in the quarterfinals. While Fitzpatrick’s semifinal magic led his opponent to call him “a special player,” his skills and character prompted Northwestern University coach Pat Goss to recruit the 2012 British Boys’ champion to play for the Wildcats starting this fall. (You might recall Goss’ work with another 5-foot-9 Englishman, Luke Donald.) Having first scouted Fitzpatrick at the 2012 European Boys Team Championship in Sweden, Goss believes the prevalent player-development programs in England and other nations yield ripe, battle-tested talent. “There are a lot of places around the world really doing it right,” he said. “As soon as you’re good enough (in England), you’re playing international amateur competitions. If you’re a kid in the U.S., you’re just playing junior golf.” That’s not to say learning to beat your peers isn’t valuable experience (see: Tiger Woods). Nor does it decry the American college system, which has produced more than its share of amateur and professional champions and continues to attract imports such as Fitzpatrick, Oliver Goss (University of Tennessee) and Conners (Kent State).


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