BROOKLINE, Mass. — The English don’t win the US Open too often, only three times in the last century to be exact. And they certainly don’t win the US National Championship on the same course where they previously won the US Amateur title, a feat achieved only once, by a guy named Jack Nicklaus (at Pebble Beach). But the time has come to forget about all this quasi-futileness. Nine years after winning the US Amateur title at the Country Club, Matt Fitzpatrick’s six under 274s, good enough for a one-shot win over Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris, mean he’s US Open champion.
Fitzpatrick’s historic breakthrough at the highest level – achieved by staying with the same family and sleeping in the same room as in August 2013 – is of course not the biggest surprise. Only a poorly played final round of the PGA Championship at Southern Hills last month kept the 27-year-old from anticipating this, the biggest victory of his professional career. He was, however, always a man on the rise. British Boys’ Champion in 2012, he clinched silver as a minor amateur at the 2013 Open Championship before a smooth ride to that Country Club win which ranked him world No.1 amateur.
It’s not for nothing that Fitzpatrick’s swing coach Mike Walker describes his charge as a ‘baby-faced assassin’, ‘ruthless’, ‘one-minded’, ‘determined to reach the top and possessed of “an innate confidence, hard to see.” It’s in him.”
All of the above was on display during a thrilling finale in which the lead was passed between Scheffler, the Masters champion and world No. 1, and Zalatoris, who now has three second-place finishes in the majors at 25. year.
As always, there were key moments in Fitzpatrick’s under-68 final two, none more than the 50-foot birdie putt the seven-time DP World Tour winner crossed the 13th green. But the 19-footer who disappeared into the cut two holes later for what turned out to be the game-winning birdie is surely a close second.
“The feeling is out of this world,” was Fitzpatrick’s instant reaction after winning the first of what he hopes will be at least six major titles.
“Six is the number,” he said. “That’s the number we all agreed on. I still have a long way to go, but it’s a good start. It’s so cliché, but it’s something you dreamed of when you were a kid. I can retire a happy man tomorrow. The expectations were that I play well. Having won the US Amateur, I felt so comfortable in this place. I know where to hit him; I know where to miss it. Due to my success here before, I felt like now was the time. I’m just happy to be undefeated in this place.
The putt hole has always been a strength of the Fitzpatrick game, alongside his metronomic ability to find fairways off the tee. But the knock on him – perhaps one reason why he had yet to win as a professional in the United States – was still that he didn’t have the length to compete at the elite level. Okay let it go. Thanks to his work with biomechanic Sasho Mackenzie and a Speedstick called “The Stack”, Fitzpatrick is now much further from the tee. Of the group competing, he was the only man to find the green with his 310-yard fifth hole drive, a feat he followed up by hitting his second shot on the 557-yard par-5 eighth on the putting surface. distant.
All of this came as no surprise to Walker, who followed the final lap by phone while driving north on the M6 motorway from Heathrow Airport. The pair have done a lot of work so far this year, making changes that require re-analysis of the Fitzpatrick technique. Gone is the specialist of the short but precise game, replaced by the owner of a complete and solid game.
“The main thing was Matt’s change to [cross]-chipping by hand,” Walker said. “He did it in training as an exercise. Then we found out he was better off the rough that way, so he started chipping away at the rough with his left hand below the right. But it became apparent that his grind from short grass wasn’t as good as people thought.
“Anyway, we met at the Bear’s Club in Florida and went over the full list of notes we had on his chipping,” Walker continued. “I explained everything to him. And his reaction was to say he didn’t have to think about his cross action. What we had to do was therefore obvious. But before making a final decision, in typical Matt fashion, he collected a month’s worth of data comparing the two stocks. And the rest is history.”
Other than that, the pair worked to get a lot of the “set” out of Fitzpatrick’s left wrist, a move that revolutionized his iron game. During this time, his driving retained its consistency and precision, although he gained ground thanks to the speed work he put in.
“It made him a world player and he just proved it,” says Walker. “With Matt’s game it’s almost like spinning plates. Last year he played well, driving very well and putting very well. But his iron game wasn’t very good. His chipping no more. This year he’s been a little more streaky with that putter. He’s had bad weeks and good weeks. But his approach game and chipping are now on par with the rest of his game. He’s strong in the sack now, having closed both gaps in his game.”
Yet another factor in Fitzpatrick’s success is caddy Billy Foster, another Yorkshireman. Like his boss, it was Foster’s first major victory after a series of close things alongside Seve Ballesteros, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke. But his biggest disappointment came alongside Thomas Bjorn at the 2003 Open at Royal St. George’s. Three shots up with three holes to play, the Dane needed three attempts to escape from a greenside bunker in the 16th and managed to lose with a shot to Ben Curtis.
“It was heartbreaking to lose that day,” Foster said. “I cried in the car on the way home.”
The only tears this time, of course, will be those of joy.