While Tiger Woods’ absence figures to be the talk of next week’s Masters, the quest of Matthew Fitzpatrick will bear watching.
The reigning U.S. Amateur champion begins his grand tour of golf’s biggest stages at Augusta National, and his performance will be under the microscope given his December decision to withdraw from Northwestern University after only a semester.
The 19-year-old Englishman began tuning up for his big test two weeks ago at Bay Hill, where competing in the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational on a sponsor exemption he shot 71-81 and missed the cut. Fitzpatrick played practice rounds at Augusta last week and today faces countryman Garrick Porteous in the Georgia Cup, an 18-hole charity match between the U.S. and British amateur champions staged annually at the Golf Club of Georgia outside Atlanta.
The spoils of Fitzpatrick’s U.S. Amateur triumph at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., last August also include berths in this year’s U.S. Open and Open Championship. Moreover, he’s slated to play in the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage and Quicken Loans National and the European Tour’s Scottish Open on sponsor exemptions before the summer’s out.
With opportunities like these to test his mettle against the world’s best – and set himself up for a lucrative professional entry – it’s hard to fault Fitzpatrick for leaving school so soon. The move is hardly unprecedented – UK compatriots Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie bolted American universities after brief stints, and things didn’t turn out so badly for them. And Jordan Spieth, just a year Fitzpatrick’s senior, has made considerable hay on Tour since leaving the University of Texas early.
In an interview with The Daily Mail published Tuesday, however, Fitzpatrick acknowledged that struggles in the classroom also played into his decision to leave Northwestern.
“I don’t think I was clever enough to be there,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m not saying I’m thick, but it is one of the world’s top 20 universities and I was working so hard in the classroom and not getting great grades, and not getting enough time to practice my golf as a result.
“It was a really tough decision. I’d been offered the scholarship in 2012 and it was always the plan to have the degree to fall back on. But last year changed everything.”
Other tidbits revealed in the piece: Fitzpatrick has met with several prospective agents, including Mark Steinberg, who manages Woods and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose; and Ian Poulter has been among those giving Fitzpatrick career advice.
With a game built on precision and wizardry around the greens, Fitzpatrick has risen to the top of the amateur ranks and, as his low-amateur performance at last summer’s Open Championship suggests, shown he belongs among the world’s best pros.
Now that Fitzpatrick has gone all-in on golf, however, the stakes have increased. It will be interesting to see how he responds at Augusta.