BROOKLINE, MASSACHUSETTS | Here in the genteel and leafy suburbs of Boston where the U.S. Open is being played at The Country Club for the fourth time, some names leap out at you because their play sends out peals of rolling thunder: Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, for example. Other names have physiques that would not look out of place on an American football field: Brooks Koepka, Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm, for example.
And then there is Matthew Fitzpatrick, 27, whose deeds certainly speak louder than his words. The 5-foot, 10-inch Englishman may be one of the most quietly-spoken and unsung players of the day, one who has built, nevertheless, an impressive CV since turning professional in 2014. It is historically significant that an Englishman is among the swathe of contenders at a course where two distinguished professionals from the British Isles, Ted Ray and Harry Vardon, were humbled by Francis Ouimet, a young American amateur, at the 1913 U.S. Open, thus triggering the boom in golf on this side of the Atlantic.
Fitzpatrick, by the way, is 2-under par and tied for seventh place after Thursday’s first round of the U.S. Open.
Normally under the radar, Fitzpatrick this week is well and truly on it for two reasons: The first is because he won the 2013 U.S. Amateur here; the second is that his accuracy from the tee and wonderful putting appear to be well-suited to a brawny and sprawling course such as this week’s composite one. He doesn’t need to boast about it, nor would he, but he’s a contender all right. Could that be a reason why he was paired with the high-octane duo of Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson, two past U.S. Open champions, for his first two rounds?
Just before lunchtime on Wednesday, when the heat of the sun was at its fiercest, Pete Cowen, the distinguished coach, was standing by Koepka’s bag on the edge of the putting green at The Country Club. There was a hubbub around the place. It was like a Middle Eastern bazaar with caddies, equipment representatives, managers, physiotherapists, journalists, wives and girlfriends and players, all standing around talking. Chatter, chatter, chatter. Cowen was asked about Fitzpatrick, a player whom he has known for nearly 20 years, and whether Fitzpatrick had any weaknesses.
Cowen looked thoughtful for a moment. “He’s got very few weaknesses. Very few.” Then he rushed to change his mind. “Well, I shouldn’t say very few. He hasn’t got any weaknesses. He’s got none. He is definitely not short. He is getting longer all the time, and he has worked at that, at getting longer. And he never leaves anything to chance. He plays well on difficult courses purely and simply because he hits it straight.
“Mentally he is as strong as you like. That is why he was so disappointed he didn’t achieve what he wanted to achieve at the PGA Championship.”
Last month at Southern Hills, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Fitzpatrick shot rounds of 68, 69 and 67 that put him in the last group on the final day, but he fell away with three bogeys on the back nine. His 73 tied him for fifth with, among others, fellow Englishman Tommy Fleetwood.
“He thought he had made too many mental errors on the golf course,” Cowen said. “Poor, bad decisions and what have you. He’s learned from them. When he comes again, he’ll not make those bad decisions. It was the first time he has been in the last group at a major.”
“My strengths are still my strengths, but they have just got better, in my opinion. … I think that looking at what I’ve achieved, I sometimes think I don’t give myself enough credit for what I have done.” – Matthew Fitzpatrick
Before the PGA, Fitzpatrick’s best finish in a major championship was T7 in the 2016 Masters. There is no doubt, though, that he has the firepower and all-round skills to win one of the game’s biggest prizes. Can he do so? Cowen was asked. “Absolutely,” Cowen said. “Absolutely.”
“We started to see that in the PGA Championship,” said Justin Rose, Fitzpatrick’s English colleague and a fellow Ryder Cupper. “I could see that he was really gutted to not win it, which I think is a brilliant sign. It is easy to say, ‘Oh, good week; something to learn from.’ He is ready to win.”
Reflecting on that Sunday in May, Fitzpatrick said: “Obviously, it was disappointing at first when you come off the golf course and realise that you had a chance to win and not taken it. But it’s funny. I was just talking to my coach and we looked back and I was more angry about the way I finished (at the PGA at Kiawah Island won by Phil Mickelson) in 2021 when I tripled the 17th hole than I was finishing the way I finished a few weeks ago. I think that probably shows how much I’ve come along as a player and also maybe got better mentally. I am accepting it for what it is and am taking the positives out of it rather than the negatives.”
The saying is that a week is a long time in politics. In which case then nine years is an age in the life of a professional golfer – half, perhaps three quarters, of their golfing lifespan. “If I look back at my game nine years ago, I would say I’m the same player but a very different one,” Fitzpatrick, a seven-time winner on the European Tour who is searching for his first professional title in the U.S., said earlier this week. “My strengths are still my strengths, but they have just got better, in my opinion. My strengths are putting and driving. I think that looking at what I’ve achieved, I sometimes think I don’t give myself enough credit for what I have done. In my personal opinion, I’m always trying to get better and to find ways I can improve. I think if someone had told me nine years ago I’d be standing here having done what I’ve done (in the meantime), I’d have snatched their hand off.”
Fitzpatrick’s caddie is Billy Foster, one of the game’s doyens among bag carriers. In a long career, Foster has worked for the late Seve Ballesteros, Lee Westwood, Thomas Bjørn among others and, like Fitzpatrick, is a Yorkshireman, a species known for speaking their mind. Asked to reveal Fitzpatrick’s strength, Foster says matter-of-factly: “There is never a flag he won’t shoot at. He is beyond brave. He carries his balls around in a wheelbarrow.”
Fitzpatrick’s mentality is one characteristic that has impressed Rose. “I think he is tough,” he said. “He looks for weaknesses in his game. He has built a nice team of people around him who can help him. I think he is super disciplined. He is incredibly organised. He comes to the course with structure every single day about what he wants to achieve. He has a plan every single day. He gets the most out of every single day. He works really efficiently, really smartly.
“Fitzy is sneaky with everything. Sneaky long. The thing about Fitz is you watch him play and he looks a little bit unassuming and then he creeps up on you in many different ways, score being the most important thing but also ball speed and distance and all these things. He had a very flat ball flight for a while, and then it was easy to pigeon hole him into ‘he can only be good on certain types of golf courses’ and then he wins on courses like Jumeirah Golf Estates, the DP World, which is a golf course that is more suited to a Rory or someone like that. Matthew has many ways of getting it done. His game translates. I find him impressive. I like him. He is ready to win.
“He has got good parents who support him, and at the same time he has pushed himself out of his comfort zone and moved to America,” Rose continued. “It’s what I did when I was young. It is very easy to stay in your comfort zone. If you want to play and win major championships, three of them are over here, and when you have grown up playing in Europe, these events do feel a little bit bigger, louder and tougher. The more you get used to playing in those conditions week in and week out, the more it is going to suit you. He has made the sacrifices necessary.
“He is having a good run, and that is testament to his hard work. You can only have a good run if the skill set is there to back it up. Anyone can have a good tournament. A good run is … competence over confidence. That is really important. You have super-special runs when both click in, and you have the confidence as well. When I played my best golf, got to No. 1 in the world, I did it through consistency. He has that same ability to churn it out week in and week out.
“He is on track, approaching 30. That is historically a nice number to start playing your best golf. I built my career on the PGA Tour post-30, so he is in the sweet spot.”
Fitzpatrick moved to the U.S. a few years ago, another step in his development. It meant he could not attend the football matches of his beloved Sheffield United, but he has hooked up a television system at his home in Florida to record them so he can watch the game at his leisure. He has his life in order. In 2013 at TCC, he had his younger brother, Alex, on his bag and their parents were in the gallery and watched with pride as Fitzpatrick became the first Englishman to win the U.S. Amateur in more than a century. They stayed with an American family, Will and Jennifer Fulton and their three kids. That was typical Fitzpatrick: sensible, unflashy, down-to-earth.
Alex Fitzpatrick recently turned professional and is playing in Europe, but the Fitzpatrick parents are here again this week and all are staying once again with the Fultons. Everything was good in 2013 except for the green beans served at Thanksgiving. “Worst thing ever invented,” Fitzpatrick said, grinning.
Green beans have been off the menu this week at the Fultons’ home, but success may be on the front burner. Watch out for Fitzpatrick. You won’t hear him, but you’ll see him on leaderboards as he goes quietly and impressively about his business.
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